Back when I was going to university in Connecticut I went to the County Clerk's office to register to vote as a new resident. I was asked to take an oath. I asked to read it first, which I suspect was a first for them.
I looked at it briefly and said I couldn't possibly do it. The clerk smiled and said, "Oh, if it's the God thing a lot of people feel the same way." Again I surprised her by saying what particularly worried me was pledging to support and defend the Constitution of Connecticut.
She was baffled by my answer, so I explained: "How could I possibly pledge my support to the state Constitution when I've never even read it?"
Her reply was: "Just swear to whatever parts you want."
I know I'm odd; I strive to mean what I say and say what I mean.
I mention this because of Memorial Day, when we are supposed to honor the troops.
I'm no pacifist, not by any means; I just haven't lived through a war I honestly felt was necessary. Of course, people always say things such as: "Regardless of your view on the war, at least we can all support our troops."
However, that's the problem. How can I support our troops when I have no idea what that means? First off, there is no "our" troops. I didn't send troops to war, didn't approve it and don't like paying for it. They aren't my troops. They are my fellow humans, my countrymen, and my neighbors, but they aren't my troops.
I certainly wish them no ill will. I don't want harm to come to them; quite the opposite.
I actually tear up watching soldiers returning to their children, wives, husbands and family. I love watching a child seeing his father's face for the first time in a year, rushing to daddy's arms, crying. I cry with him. I want to see this scene thousands of times over. I want them all home, unharmed.
If that is what you mean by "support," then count me in.
The slogan, however, is never defined; it is left purposely vague.
Do I support "our troops" when they are implicated in atrocities? No, and for the same reason I don't want them harmed. The very idea of harming another human being is inherently repugnant to me.
Once, in South Africa, a business customer came in with a new scar in his cheek. He told me what happened after his last visit. He was stopped at the corner traffic light when he heard someone trying to open the passenger door. He then looked out his side widow and saw a man reaching to pull open that door, as well.
He decided to get out of the car and pushed open his door just as the man pulled hard on the handle. The unexpected momentum of the door sent the man falling backwards. The light had just changed and a woman coming from the other direction accidentally ran over and killed the would-be car thief.
My friend grabbed a fire extinguisher from his car just as the second man came at him with a gun. My friend screamed an obscenity and the man shot. At about the same moment my friend hit the man in the skull with the extinguisher, killing him. The bullet literally went into his open mouth and out his left cheek.
When the police arrived, they asked him where his gun was. He said he didn't have one. Their response was: "Then how did you kill two of the bastards?"
I remember recounting this story to friends afterward. Over and over I heard: "Great." "Wonderful." "I'm thrilled to hear it."
I told them that while I believed the man had the right to defend himself, and that I was glad he lived through the experience, I was still sorry that we lived someplace where the taking of life was necessary. All killing is ultimately a tragedy.
It is never wonderful to kill. It may be necessary, but at its best is a necessary evil.
I can't support the troops in killing, not in a war that is unjustified and not against civilians.
I can't support the troops in what they do, or why they do it. I can't support their choice to enlist. I can only wish they had made other choices, and that the politicians, who sent them to war, had done otherwise.
I don't want to see another child clutching a folded flag while standing next to his father's coffin. I don't want to see another soldier trying to learn to live without legs, or arms.
What "support" I may have is not for "our troops." It is for my fellow human beings. It is for fathers and mothers and sons and daughters. It is for neighbors and strangers, all of whom are equally human and equally precious.