As I drive out from the gallery-and trendy-restaurant-chocked neighborhoods of my city (Portland, Oregon) toward the 'burbs, the "Think Globally, Act Locally" bumper stickers you see on the Prius and the Volvo yield to "Support Our Troops" ribbons on road-hogging SUVs and spitfiring pickups.
Ever since the Iraq war started and these "Support Our Troops" ribbons started sprouting, I have been trying to summon any available inner agents of tolerance and understanding.
I am at that place, but it hasn't been easy. Let me tell you how I have come to this place.
As a liberal who did support our actions in Afghanistan but not in Iraq, my first reaction to these ribbons was one of stereotypical judgment.
I automatically began to perceive the driver not only as a family member, loved one or close friend of someone who is serving in Iraq, but as someone who has bought the whole myth -- WMD, Saddam was very involved in 9/11, Saddam has nukes, Saddam supplied the anthrax attackers, etc. A listener to Mr. Savage, Limbaugh, Hannity or O'Reilly -- most of whom promoted the assumptions I've just cited.
The presence of fish insignia on many of these same bumpers only fed the extra stereotype of evangelical church members with an absolutist and greatly oversimplified sense of good and evil, whose sons (and daughters) were motivated to sign up and serve because to them, Sept.11 represented the personification of evil on earth. And, in associating Saddam with those who attacked the WTC and the Pentagon, the fish-brandishers revealed an attitude that because you might worship differently, or not at all, then you are suspect, especially in fearful times.
If I really wanted to push the envelope further, I automatically assumed vehicles with both "Support Our Troops" ribbons and fish-stickers belonged to those who were not necessarily only reptilian-brained, fear-driven folks, but those who believed in a 7,000-year-old earth and that abortion is murder.
Not that these assumptions don't have some ring of truth to them. But yes, I was guilty of snap judgments. Of pre-judgments. Of prejudice.
What turned me around?
The other night I lay in bed awake, and I remember the stories my Mom used to tell me about the months, the years, she did not hear from my Dad when he fought in North Africa during World War II. The loneliness. The hope. The faith that she would see him again.
This was a time before the Internet, and before email from the base could even be contemplated. A time before satellite phones, before Internet phones, before jets could fly postal mail from a military base back to the U.S.
Sure, I could easily make the point that war was far more justified than this one is. I mean, Saddam, damn him, gassed 60,000 Kurds. But Hitler God damn him, gassed six million Jews and many others. Saddam invaded one nation. Hitler invaded many.
Those points are valid, but sometimes, love -- of a sweetheart, a parent, a sibling, even a best buddy from childhood, knows not reasoned arguments of political passions or even humanity.
You see, my mom loved my Dad, and she worried about him. When he came home injured by shrapnel, she took a train nine hours to see him. And for more than 40 years until his death ultimately attributable to reactions to pain medications prescribed to dull the pain of war-related injuries, she was there at his side.
What has my Mom's experience taught me? Something it should teach you as well...
That behind the wheel of that black SUV with the "Support Our Troops" ribbon is a living, feeling, loving human being -- most likely someone close to one who is in harm's way. And while I probably don't agree politically or theocratically with the drivers of those SUVs, I support them.
I support them, because, you see, I too, understand fear and faith and hope and loss.
So to those who brandish those Support Our Troops ribbons, here's one liberal who yearns for the safe return of the loved one you care so much about, and for.