Monday, October 10, 2005

this passes for nonpolitical?

a story in today's indy star had this puzzling headline:

Nonpolitical rally backs U.S. troops

a nonpolitical "support our troops" rally? is such a thing even possible? maybe once upon a time it was, but now? in our hyperpoliticized culture when anyone who dared question the war effort (or the justifications for such) has been branded as unpatriotic or even treasonous for the past 4 years? when "support our troops" has become synonymous with "shut up and support the war, or move to iraq"? when far-right groups like move america forward (known for following cindy sheehan around and organizing counter-protests) throw "support our troops" rallies and list their mission statement as "supporting America's efforts to defeat terrorism and supporting the brave men and women of our Armed Forces"?

Surveying the crowd of more than 150 people gathered on the steps of the Indiana War Memorial on Sunday, Peggy Getty said she was pleased so many responded to her call for a nonpolitical rally to support America's military.
"This has been very positive -- no negative feedback," said the mother of Marine Lance Cpl. Jeff Getty, 20. "It's just good to see so much support for our kids."

okay, so nothing too objectionable so far. while the concept of a "nonpolitical rally to support america's military" would seem to be a fantasy on par with the existence of unicorns or compassionate conservatism, i can buy that a marine mom would propose holding such an impossible event, and being pleased at the turnout.

supporting the troops and supporting the war are fully discrete ideas. many people oppose the war precisely because they do support the troops and don't want to see them killed and maimed—and killing and maiming others—for less-than-perfect reasons. like, for a war based on faulty assumptions, justified with lies and faulty intelligence, implemented incompetently, and with debatably impossible goals. how could someone possibly support the troops any more strongly than by demanding that they come home, alive and as soon as possible?

but some people have difficulty discerning the difference between these two concepts. indeed, many military supporters state quite loudly that they can't comprehend any difference. they even tell us that by opposing the war, we do direct harm against the troops. it harms their morale, we are told, and we should just STFU and wave our flags until bush decides the war is over and iraq is a democracy.

not to put words into peggy getty's mouth, but doesn't this cut both ways? if many of our most vocal military supporters equate supporting the troops with supporting the war, how can they do one without the other? how can they host a nonpolitical "support our troops" rally if supporting the troops and supporting the war are the same thing in their minds? i know it's possible to do one and not the other, and you likely do too, but many of them don't, so how can they pretend to do it?

any suggestion that this rally was truly "nonpolitical" should be shattered by this quote from the article:

Other speakers offered military families words of encouragement, which were met with frequent rounds of applause. Lt. Col. Bert Owens of the Indiana National Guard recently returned from a year in Afghanistan and said soldiers stationed in the Middle East are eager to serve.

"The morale of the troops is extremely high because they are doing what they are supposed to do," he said.

quite blatantly a pro-war sentiment from the podium. and what exactly are our troops supposed to do? follow orders unquestioningly? blow things up? spread democracy?

so the rally was organized, according to the promoter, as "nonpolitical". it fairly clearly was political—though perhaps not overtly so. and yet the star gladly and unquestionably states that it was nonpolitical, by including that word in the headline. so pro-war rallies are deemed nonpolitical by the star. if i decided to throw a "nonpolitical" anti-war rally, do you think the star would put "nonpolitical" in the headline like that?

and if that wasn't objectionable enough, we find this in the sidebar:

Your message
To send a message of support to members of the military, visit www. These messages will be posted on the Web site, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense.

so the rally is nonpolitical, and if we want to send our own nonpolitical message of solidarity, we may do at a .mil website that's operated by DoD—a website that was plugged by president bush on national television during his undeniably political fort bragg speech.

here's what prwatch had to say about

A visit to, however, raises questions about what the website is actually accomplishing. Could the site be nothing more than another Pentagon attempt to boost public support for war and distract the public's attention away from criticisms?

The site's primary function appears to be that of a message board offering words of encouragement and thanks to soldiers. At this writing, the site claims to have gathered over 98,000 "messages of support." A quick skimming of the messages suggests that most are thanking the troops and invoking God's blessings. "You have our deepest respect and heartfelt thanks. America is still a great nation, and you are putting yourself in harm's way to protect it. We hope you enjoyed the books, tapes and goodies we have sent through various collection groups here in our city. We will continue to pray regularly for you. God bless you. God bless America," write Bill and Helen, Lake Charles, Louisiana.

When it comes to offering more concrete support, one click takes site visitors to the "How You Can Help" page, where there are dozens of links to "organizations that will help you send messages and packages as well as provide other support." A lot of the links are specifically for sending messages and packages to soldiers. Many links go to the web pages of private groups trying to address the short- and long-term needs of returning soldiers, particularly injured soldiers who may face long recovery periods and disability issues. Other links are to organizations working to provide relief to financial and family stresses face by reservists. There is no doubt that these efforts are well intentioned - or that messages of support to soldiers under fire have fire. But simply placing numerous links on one crowded web page makes it hard for Americans to provide more tangible forms of support.

The rest of looks like a standard PR effort, featuring press releases, links to recent news stories, promotional video, inspirational songs, downloadable America Supports You logos, a radio public service announcement featuring actor Gary Sinise and a list of "Corporate Team Members." A read through of the site's "About Us" section leaves the distinct impression that publicizing citizens' good deeds for the troops ranks higher as a priority than encouraging them. In eight bullet points, the "About Us" page lists how the site will "recognize" and "communicate" citizens' support for the military. And as every good PR campaign benefits from some kind of paraphenalia, there is a bullet point for that, too: "The America Supports You Dog Tag, emblazoned with the America Supports You logo, will be the official emblem of the program, and serve as a visible force multiplier in projecting the message that America supports our military men and women."

i have no harsh words for peggy getty. her boy is in a battle zone where he could be killed or mutilated at any moment. peggy just wanted to hold a rally to show her son and others like them that they are loved. it's not her fault that the right-wing noise machine has so sullied the national discourse that a nonpolitical "support our troops" rally is little more than a dream, that the very phrase "support our troops" is now used more often as an epithet against war protesters more than it is used literally.

but shame, shame, shame on the indy star for perpetuating this fantasy, for promoting the pro-war effort as "nonpolitical", and for then taking the extra step of promoting a pro-war government PR effort.

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