Ever since the 1960s and 70s, the idea of “supporting our troops”at the societal level has developed into something of a partisan issue, generally split between people who favor the use of American force abroad and those who don’t. This divide generally falls between hawkish Republicans, and everybody else, respectively. Today, while various bipartisan governmental programs such as the Wounded Warrior Project are in place, and a very serious-looking Michelle Obama appears on TV every now and again, not enough is done by individual citizens.
The politics of war are as far from the front lines as the politicians themselves, and so the idea that one must support a particular war in order to support the troops fighting and returning from it is entirely off base. This phenomenon really came to be during Vietnam, when soldiers (mostly conscripts, not volunteers) returning home were regarded as extensions rather than pawns of unpopular policy deciders. Society was rightfully angry at the U.S.’continuous and apparently expanding role in Vietnam, but as a result of turbulent passion, very much missed what it needed to do.
A generation before Vietnam, soldiers coming back from World War II were given heroes’ welcomes. Perhaps this was because the US was decisively a victor in the war, but it was also because of the perception of the war being one worth fighting. The U.S.-/British-inflicted firestorms in Hamburg, Tokyo, and Dresden, among others, were glossed over: B-17 crews were idolized rather than spurned for the death and destruction they wrought. The difference between these cases and those during and after Vietnam is striking, and whatever the reason is for its existence, there should be little debate over the idea that the treatment should be the same. Perceptions of politicians and high-level military decision-makers should indeed be based on whether or not a war is seen by society as one worth fighting or whether or not American troops acted in an admirable way, but as for individual soldiers, there shouldn’t be any difference.
This topic recently came to the forefront of popular discussion with the release of the film American Sniper. Depending on whom one asked, the movie either presented a fairly unbiased account of sniper Chris Kyle’s development into the most deadly marksman in U.S. history over the course of several tours of duty in Iraq, or was a shameless bit of American propaganda designed to send moviegoers home filled with tears in their eyes and patriotism in their hearts. In the end, what people made of the movie is irrelevant; what’s important is acknowledging the fact that people like Kyle, politically unenlightened as they may be, put their lives on the line to protect the citizens of a country they love. It really doesn’t matter if their conviction of the importance of their job is erroneous – the fact that they have it should leave everyone stateside thankful, regardless of personal beliefs about the morality of a certain war, or of war in general.
The argument here isn’t that American wars should be supported unconditionally, but that soldiers returning from them should. At end of the day, the men and women of armed forces around the world are just that, men and women, and often, this human aspect gets lost. Someone who hasn’t experienced a military situation cannot even begin to understand the implications of personal involvement, and so regarding any soldier coming home, not as a hero, but with basic respect should be something far more commonplace than it is. In a country in which there is very little chance of conscription occurring in the near future, it’s patriotic duty to support those who volunteer for jobs few are even willing to take on.