Monday, November 14, 2005

Why I Won't Be Wearing Red

This a letter I wrote to a friend in response to an email she forwarded me. Out of respect for her privacy, I'll call her "Sarah."

Dear Sarah,

Thanks for forwarding the email asking me to wear red on Fridays to symbolize my support for our troops in Iraq and around the world. Based on our long friendship, our shared love of St. Mary's, and the many values we have in common, I know you are a deeply sincere person and that your request comes from the heart. That's why I am taking the time to respond with an explanation of why I will not be wearing red as you've asked.

For many years, going back to the days of the Vietnam War, I've wondered about exactly what "supporting our troops" really means. I can think of many possible ways in which Americans might "support" the troops who are doing battle in a specific war. Some of these ways I am happy to participate in, but some I am not.

Supporting our troops could mean:

* Praying for their physical and spiritual well-being and their safe return to their homes and families. This I am happy to do, and I can't imagine that there are many people of faith who would feel differently.

* Refraining from belittling or attacking soldiers verbally or in other ways, and treating them with personal respect for their service and sacrifice. Once again, you can count me in.

* Willingly paying taxes to provide material support for the soldiers and their families, and advocating government policies to ensure that our armed forces are well-equipped and that veterans are well cared for. Here again, I am happy to participate.

On the other hand, supporting our troops could mean:

* Endorsing our government's decision to launch a particular war (such as the invasion of Iraq) or its policies in regard to waging that war.

* Regarding American soldiers as being above criticism--for example, speaking and behaving as if the inhumane treatment of prisoners at Abu Gharib prison is all right because "our" troops did it.

* Acting as if the lives of people killed by American soldiers (whether uniformed enemy combatants, civilian attackers, or innocent and uninvolved men, women, and children) are of lesser value in God's eyes than the lives of Americans.

* Refraining from criticizing the president, the vice president, the secretary of defense, and other government officials during a time of war.

I can't endorse any of these attitudes, Sarah. If I did, I would be espousing attitudes that I think are deeply anti-Christian. I can't believe that, in the eyes of Jesus, the life of a young Iraqi man is valueless or that it's okay to torture him in hopes of getting military or political information out of him. If "supporting the troops" means endorsing torture or the needless killing of civilians, I can't do that.

If I "supported the troops" in these ways, I would also be giving the president and the party in power at any given time a blank check to use American power in any way they see fit. This is obviously not what our nation's founders intended, and it would ultimately transform our country from a democracy and a republic into a dictatorship.

The idea that criticizing the president's policies in time of war somehow means failing to "support the troops" is especially insidious, considering that President Bush has repeatedly declared that the "War on Terror" is a global battle whose objective (to "defeat terrorism") is open-ended and, in practical terms, impossible to achieve. (How can we ever eradicate every would-be terrorist from the face of the earth?) As defined by the president, the "War on Terror" is likely to last decades, if not generations. Are we supposed to put democracy on hold by refraining from debate and criticism all that time?

I don't imagine that you meant to endorse all of these positions when you forwarded the email to me, Sarah. But I'm afraid that the people who are pushing the "wear red on Fridays" campaign did. Look at the language in the email:

Americans who support our troops used to be called the "silent majority". We are no longer silent, and are voicing our love for God, country and home in record breaking numbers. We are not organized, boisterous or over-bearing. We get no liberal media coverage on TV, to reflect our message or our opinions.. . . It will not be long before the USA is covered in RED and it will let our troops know the once "silent" majority is on their side more than ever, certainly more than the media lets on.. . . Every red-blooded American who supports our men and women afar, will wear something red.

Notice the tone of this message, Sarah--the complaints about how the "liberal media" silence attempts to voice support for the troops, the references to the "silent majority" of "red-blooded Americans," and the implication that people who aren't part of the "silent majority" somehow don't love "God, country and home." The idea here is not to unite Americans in support of our country but to divide us: conservatives against liberals, the "silent" supporters against the unpatriotic critics, "red-blooded" Americans against--what?--lily-livered peaceniks?

I'm sure it's no coincidence that the organizers of this (supposedly "not organized") movement are calling for people to wear red rather than any other color. Remember the election coverage? States that vote Republican are called "red states." The people who wrote this email want the US to be "covered in red" not just in terms of clothing choices but in the voting booths.

Sorry, but I am a Democrat and usually vote that way. Unfortunately, it sounds as though the "support our troops" people don't consider me "red-blooded" enough to be a real American.

If you think I'm being paranoid, Sarah, think again. Look at what President Bush said in his speech at Tobyhanna Army Depot in Pennsylvania on Veteran's Day:

And our debate at home must also be fair-minded. One of the hallmarks of a free society and what makes our country strong is that our political leaders can discuss their differences openly, even in times of war. When I made the decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power, Congress approved it with strong bipartisan support. I also recognize that some of our fellow citizens and elected officials didn't support the liberation of Iraq. And that is their right, and I respect it. As President and Commander-in-Chief, I accept the responsibilities, and the criticisms, and the consequences that come with such a solemn decision.

While it's perfectly legitimate to criticize my decision or the conduct of the war, it is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began. (Applause.) Some Democrats and anti-war critics are now claiming we manipulated the intelligence and misled the American people about why we went to war. These critics are fully aware that a bipartisan Senate investigation found no evidence of political pressure to change the intelligence community's judgments related to Iraq's weapons programs.

They also know that intelligence agencies from around the world agreed with our assessment of Saddam Hussein. They know the United Nations passed more than a dozen resolutions citing his development and possession of weapons of mass destruction. And many of these critics supported my opponent during the last election, who explained his position to support the resolution in the Congress this way: "When I vote to give the President of the United States the authority to use force, if necessary, to disarm Saddam Hussein, it is because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a threat, and a grave threat, to our security." That's why more than a hundred Democrats in the House and the Senate -- who had access to the same intelligence -- voted to support removing Saddam Hussein from power. (Applause.)

The stakes in the global war on terror are too high, and the national interest is too important, for politicians to throw out false charges. (Applause.) These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will. As our troops fight a ruthless enemy determined to destroy our way of life, they deserve to know that their elected leaders who voted to send them to war continue to stand behind them. (Applause.) Our troops deserve to know that this support will remain firm when the going gets tough. (Applause.) And our troops deserve to know that whatever our differences in Washington, our will is strong, our nation is united, and we will settle for nothing less than victory. (Applause.)

I could take your time to dissect the untruths in the president's speech, Sarah. For example, the "bipartisan Senate investigation" that he refers to (the Robb commission) specifically stated that it did not look into whether or not the administration distorted intelligence information about Iraq in order to support its case for war . . . so how could it exonerate the administration against charges it did just that?

So much of what the president is arguing here is at least debatable. But President Bush speaks as if such debate is not acceptable. Notice how, in the last paragraph I quoted, the president equates criticism of his administration and debate over the war with failure to support the troops: "These baseless attacks [at least, he considers them baseless] send the wrong signal to our troops." In other words, he is saying, "As long as our soldiers are in harm's way, shut up and don't question me. Otherwise, you're betraying our troops." It's the same divisive message contained in the email you sent me.

The real goal of the people who sent you that email, Sarah, is not to support our troops but to make disagreement with Republican policies appear unpatriotic, un-American, and hateful.

I don't think you really want to participate in such an effort--you're too good-hearted and thoughtful a person. And you know that, no matter how we may disagree about public policies, the values we share are too deep and important for us to allow ourselves to be divided by people seeking political objectives.

Thanks for taking the time to read this letter. Hope you're well--

yours in Christ,

Karl Weber

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