I Suppose That I Should Be Flattered, But . . .

iraq_at_the_mall.jpg

Back in March 2006 on the third anniversary of the war in Iraq, I wrote at my own wee blog:

For many Americans, the war is background noise that only occasionally and inconveniently intrudes as they shop at the mall and catch a glimpse of a bloody street scene from Baghdad on the TVs in the window of an electronics store.

Then in December 2006, I wrote the following here:

Most [Americans] are figuratively if not literally shopping at the mall, and beyond the yellow Support the Troops ribbons on their SUVs, the obscenity that the Iraq war has become is an abstraction. That is unless they are the very rare person who knows a war veteran or happens to stroll past a TV store at the mall and catches a big-screen glimpse of the carnage before they avert their eyes and continue on to Victoria’s Secret.

So imagine my surprise when the photograph above, shot by John Moore of Getty Images at a Marine Corps civil affairs office in Ramadi, appeared in newspapers and at military blogs.

I suppose I should feel flattered, but I do not.

As did my words, the graffiti based on them speaks a very sad truth.

         

41 Comments

  1. As a person who’s best friend and coworker is a former Army ranger sniper and who knows a large number of people in the service I’m glad to see someone else finally say what we’ve been talking about amongst ourselves for years. A yellow ribbon doesn’t make a war effort, rhetoric doesn’t make someone a veteran. These men and women are bleeding over our policy fights and it’s nothing but sickening to watch.

  2. Yup, if someone needed proof that the troops in Iraq fell very much left alone, this picture is ample evidence. Bumper stickers and lip services don’t improve the situation for the grunts. It’s about time for the broad public to follow up with actions that will really help the grunts!

    Regardless of your position towards the war and the surge, why don’t you at least do one of the following things:

    Write your Senator and/or Representative and demand congressional action

    1) on the stingy budget decisions that are responsible for shortchanging vets on physical and mental handicaps they received as a result of the war. What’s needed is a rule that the military is generally required to pay for any such handicap as long as they can’t prove beyond reasonable doubt that it’s not based on injury or experience during military service.

    2) on the bureaucratic mess that is keeping wounded troops in institutions like Walter Reed, far away from their loved ones, when they could receive health care in better and more convenient surroundings.

    3) on the ridiculous stance of the Pentagon towrds body armor, that actually punishes troops for spemnding their own money (or that of relatives) on superior and/or more convenient armor, instead of testing and rating such equippment and supporting every soldier to get adequate armor that fits his needs.

    4) on the lack of regulation that allows insurance companies and financial services to make huge profits, above market average, on troops who lack the time and the opportunities to defend against unfair business practises while deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Just some of the topics who have been discussed in the media recently, and where Congress has done nothing so far to improve the situation for the troops. Writing or phoning the lawmakers takes more time and effort than simply buying a yellow cord, but it is an incredible small sacrifice compared with the hardships for the soldiers fighting abroad. Pls consider doing your share!

  3. That is a powerful picture.

    Gray, your comments are interesting, but you aren’t addressing the wider point.

    Thousands of American troops are overseas fighting a War on Terror – a war that many sneer at, but a real war in which troops are dying and being maimed daily – and American society seems not to care.

    This was at the back of my mind while I wandered in and out of the room during the Oscars. It was at the front of my mind during the absurdity of the media meltdowns over ANS and Britney shaving her head.

    I imagine, to a soldier on patrol in Iraq, witnessing the frenzy over the REAL NEWS of Britney shaving her head would have seemed like video from another planet.

  4. “Gray, your comments are interesting, but you aren’t addressing the wider point.”

    And deliberately so. Imho the troops really deserve that the folks at home stand up for them and demand an imoprovemnt from Congress. The wider point would be to ask if the occupation of Iraq makes any sense at all. But I didn’t want to start another round of the discussion if the war and/or the surge are necessary.

    However, your point about the skewed media coverage is another interesting angle to look at the situation. It’s not only the Pentagon bureaucracy, the MSM all but ignores the soldiers’ problems, too.

  5. I agree completely about the policy issues and the need for grassroots activism to affect them. However, I don’t think we need to diss the yellow ribbon crowd in order to make that point and in fact I think that’s counterproductive. A lot of the people who display those stickers and car magnets are either family members of troops or they’re people who support the troops through individual acts: sending care packages, organizing efforts to help families of troops stateside, etc. There is a LOT that can be done (and needs to be done) in the way of direct citizen support for our troops. One example I came across recently is a nonprofit that finds foster homes for pets of servicemen and women who are deployed (www.netpets.org). It seems like a small thing but there are a million ways that troops and their families are burdened by deployment and if citizens would become more involved at least in small ways, then we can all share in the sacrifice.

    So yes, work toward change in policies to better support the troops at the macro level, but don’t dismiss the micro level of support either.

  6. “However, I don’t think we need to diss the yellow ribbon crowd in order to make that point and in fact I think that’s counterproductive.”

    Hmm, I’m not so sure, CS. As you said, there are many who already support the troops by real action. But there’s a large group who sees those stickers and cords as a way to show their patriotism, without living up to the goal. Imho, the simple question: ‘What have you really done for the troops recently?’ will shame many of those into finally doing something.

    And one other point: Charity organisations are a great tool for providing services that the government can’t or won’t offer. But, let’s face it, it’s humiliating for the troops to have to be the object of others’ generosity, as if they haven’t earned the right to receive this care as part of teir service. Most soldiers are proud people, they do a dangerous and demanding job, and they shouldn’t have to beg for help from strangers. The government has an obligation to provide the care for military personel, it simply can’t get rid of that resposnsibility because private organisations are willing to step in. Soldiers deserve fair treatment, they shouldn’t be degraded to beggars! Simply supporting charity organisations, without actively demanding Congress to make provisions for a fair treatment of the troops, is doing only half the job.

  7. CStanley:

    I went easy on the yellow ribbon crowd. Based on their incidence, there must be thousands of troopers in Iraq just from the area in which I live if, as you say, many of the people who display the ubiquitous ribbons have family members or other loved ones in Mesopotamia. That, of course, is not likely.

    So I will call most of these people for what they are — rank hypocrites.

    Finally, thank you for noting that there are things that people can do beyond displaying yellow ribbons such as adopting pets. The Web is full of such programs.

  8. So I will call most of these people for what they are — rank hypocrites

    By what evidence, Shaun? You just acknowledged what I pointed out, that the web is full of programs to help troops, their families, etc. Who is running these programs and participating in them? I’d be willing to bet that a lot of the people you’re calling hypocrites are doing so. Sure, I’ll admit that a lot of people put the magnet on their car and think they’ve done their part, but I think you’re being very crass and unfair to assume that that’s the majority.

  9. CS, isn’t a bit nitpicking to discuss if those who sport a ‘me, too’ attitude without really doing anything are the majority or a big minority? Shaun pointed out that he’s criticising those who pay only lip services, not the folks who actually live up to their commitment.

    Now, regardless if they’ve already done something or not, if all those who proudly claim to support the troops would make a stink about the buraucratic mess that hampers soldiers wellbeing, this amount of pressure would force Congress and governement to engage the problems.
    Actively demanding a fair treatment of soldiers is one of the best ways to support the troops.

  10. Gray,
    I think it’s very counterproductive to criticize a group of people en masse without really knowing if they deserve that criticism. Shaun said he is calling “most” of these people hypocrites, yet neither he, nor I (nor you) know if 20%, 50%, or 99.99% of the people who display signs of support are doing anything tangible to help the troops. It’s like saying that people who wear Livestrong yellow bracelets are hypocrites because they’re not really doing anything to help cancer victims. Who says they’re not, and why would you want to put down a group of people who at least had some inclination to care about the problem that you’re interested in solving? Why not praise them for their caring and them help direct them to ways that they can provide concrete help? And why not acknowledge that political activism is one avenue to help, while other people find other avenues?

  11. CStanley:

    I suppose that we’re playing a numbers game here.

    I make my observations based on record retail sales (ie., the mall analogy), lousy voter turnout and the relatively few letters to the editor of papers that I read and blogs that I visit from citizens who even address the war, let alone note that they do more than festoon their SUVs with yellow ribbons and urge others to do the same.

  12. “Why not praise them for their caring and them help direct them to ways that they can provide concrete help?”
    Ok, that might work, too.
    However:
    Why not comment my points on the downside of charity, CS?

  13. Why not comment my points on the downside of charity, CS?

    Uh, I’d try to comment if I knew what you were talking about. What points are you referring to?

    Shaun,
    You have the mindset of a political activist. The majority of people don’t. You are making assumptions that people aren’t “doing anything” because they’re not doing what you think they ought to be doing. People who work in a nonpolitical way to help the troops might feel that you aren’t doing your part (though I’m making an assumption there which I don’t know is true: you may also take part in direct grassroots support efforts for the troops and in that case, that criticism would not apply to you.) I hope you get my meaning; there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and I think it’s harmful to criticize people just because they might have a different way of going about something. If you want to direct your criticism specifically toward those who pay lip service without really doing anything, then I think that’s valid- but by using words like “most”, you didn’t do that; instead you made assumptions based on your own ideas about what people should be doing.

  14. “Uh, I’d try to comment if I knew what you were talking about.”
    Having a bad day, C? I have some headaches, too…

    “You have the mindset of a political activist.”
    Hehehehehe!
    This from CS, who is always defending the GOP, no matter how much she has to twist truth to do it. Oh, the irony…
    :P

  15. “If you want to direct your criticism specifically toward those who pay lip service without really doing anything, then I think that’s valid- but by using words like “mostâ€?, you didn’t do that;”

    Incredible (and quite unfamiliar) nitpicking today, CS. Yeah, sure, lets discuss some more hours about Shaun’s usage of ‘most’ in this context…

    Come on, who is responsible for you being so p***ed off today, CS?
    :-/

  16. My we’re snarky today, Gray. Why not simply tell me what comment of yours I failed to address?

    And do you not know the meaning of political activist? I’d venture to guess that Shaun probably knows what I meant. It’s that some people choose to affect the world through the political process while others have no interest in doing so. It has nothing to do with partisanship; people on both ends of the spectrum can be political activists, and all of them are a different breed from people who don’t take an interest in politics. And of those who don’t take an interest in politics, there are many who just don’t care enough to get involved in making the world a better place (and these are the ones who should rightly be criticized), while there are others who labor to improve the world but they do it in ways that are completely separate from the political process. This is normal and as it should be; we need activists pushing for public policy and activists who do the day to day work of fixing problems without government’s involvement.

  17. What did I write that leads you to believe I’m pi$$ed off, Gray? I’m argumentative by nature, I guess, so if someone says something that I disagree with I’ll continue to comment until I feel I’ve made my point. Not that everyone will agree with me, but that they understand what I’m saying. Shaun’s response to me original comment led me to believe that I didn’t get the point across, so I pointed out his use of the word “most”, because that’s where I have a problem with his point. If he is, as you say:
    “criticising those who pay only lip services, not the folks who actually live up to their commitment.”
    Then I have no problem with that. But that isn’t in fact what he said because he made an assumption about a whole group of people, without evidence that they deserve the criticism that he’s dishing out. That is counterproductive, IMO.

  18. The Bush administration doesn’t want the public to sacrifice for the war in Iraq. They know that the minute we have to start changing our lives, we will start taking a closer look at the war itself and its justifications. And when that happens, the tepid anti-war movement will turn into a fervor.

  19. Putting yellow stickers on SUV’s is just window dressing. When people start doing, on a small scale, what the Fisher family and Cher have done then I’ll buy into shared sacrifice. Fighting at the mall over the latest incarnation of the XBox isn’t supporting the troops. Donating $100K’s of dollars for helmut liners and San Antonio rehab hospital is real support. LOL – I bet those yellow stickers are made in China.

  20. You know what? I am going to diss the yellow ribbon crowd…or at least the physical ribbon itself.

    Typically, the most common way of showing one’s support for a cause with their vehicle is a bumper sticker, a lasting, permanent reminder that takes a lot of effort to remove. I find it very interesting that the most popular way of supporting the war is with a magnet, and not a sticker. It was as though at the start of the war supporters wanted a way to show their support that could easily be removed, with no consequences. That, or they cared more about the paint on their cars than they did the troops. In either case, just how strong is their support for the troops?

  21. Y’all don’t mind if I interrupt this little three-way argument with a rather controversial observation?

    The comment in the picture above is a ridiculous oversimplification. And also fairly typical.

    Contrary to what many people in the military apparently think, American civilians are not all spending their time at the mall buying things. Many are struggling just to get by and support their families. Others are working long hours, often for limited benefits and wages that don’t keep up with inflation.

    Also, many in the military seem to imply that their profession is the only one that really matters, that keeps America going. But many American civilians–doctors, nurses, teachers, parents, counselors, ministers, firefighters, police–have vocations vital to our country’s well-being. And many others, in spite of limited money and time, are trying to make a difference in their community outside their professions.

    Sure, the military has a tough job, especially in Iraq. But I find it very irritating when they imply they’re better and more vital than civilians, the civilians who support them and whom they’re supposed to serve.

    OK, now Grey, C Stanley, and Shaun can quit sniping at each other and take aim at me. ;)

  22. OK, Alan, I’ve got you in my crosshairs now, you asked for it LOL…

    Sorry, but I can’t agree with you. There’s really no comparison between the kind of struggle you describe among the civilian population and the struggle for life and death that our troops in combat have to face every day. None.

    In fact, a little humorous anecdote to make my point. A friend and former co-worker of my husband, (this person was a Viet Nam vet) used to tell his wife, whenever they were in a rough situation, “Relax honey, no one is shooting at us”. It was his mantra, because he had lived through both situations and clearly knew that the things that stress most of us out pale by comparison to the stress of war.

    We owe a LOT to our troops, and I for one won’t begrudge them that support or belittle it by saying “we civilians do important things too”. That statement is true, of course, but it’s misplaced in this conversation because without troops defending us, none of the rest would be possible…and because most of us aren’t truly putting our lives on the line.

  23. Alan G:

    As a veteran myself who has covered a war or three, I have no sense of the self righteousness you claim that military people have.

    And the kind of graffiti that was scrawled on that wall in Ramadi is typical. As I noted in my post and subsequent comments, I think the sentiment it expresses is deeply evocative of the situation that troops in Iraq find themselves in.

  24. It’s too bad that our troops are being made to struggle and die not for our safety and freedom but so that Exxon/Shell/Chevron have access to the oil of the Middle East.

    It’s a dishonor to those men and women in uniform that they are being used as corporate mercenaries.

  25. Chris,
    I’ve had trouble following your position on the war as it relates to resources that are vital to US interests. In another thread, you asserted that the war was all about oil, and another commenter (I think Austin Roth) responded by saying that there’s nothing wrong with that: countries should actually ONLY go to war to protect the interests of their citizens.

    Do you agree with that or not? And would you agree that although true that oil is a vital interest of the oil corporations, it’s also a vital interest of every US citizen? Like it or not, we are all held hostage to the Middle East because of our dependence on fossil fuels.

  26. My .02–

    The “war on terror” is a political artifact. Any sensible account of it would lead us to conclude that we will be at war forever, and were probably mistaken to have ever thought we were not at war.

    Except that doesn’t make sense to most people, and rightfully so. So they go to the mall like they always did. The “war” is a tv show.

    But there is much political capital to be mined from the “war on terror,” so we can expect it to continue. Not because it changes what anyone does, but because it’s a motivator at the ballot box. There really is very little else to the “war on terror.”

  27. C Stanley,
    I don’t think the oil of the Middle East is ours to take by force. In fact, taking it by force is criminal, especially when you consider the 10s of the thousands of Iraqis we’ve killed in the process.

    Believe it or not, the people in the Middle East want to sell us oil just as much as we want to buy it. The problem is that we don’t want to have to compete with China and Europe for access to these resources.

  28. Chris,
    The fact is that Iraq is probably the one vast untapped oil source today. For a while, it’s been assumed that Saudi Arabia still had vast reserves, but they’ve more than likely been bluffing out their rear ends for years.

    So, naturally given the worldwide demand, there is desire among oil corporations to invest in Iraq to explore and extract the oil that is likely there. With Saddam in power though, there was a major obstacle; the international community had been containing Saddam’s WMD ambitions through oil sanctions.

    Is it difficult to understand then, that Saddam was standing in the way of a vital resource needed by our population? And when you combine that with what he was doing to his own population, that there were morally sound reasons to remove him?

  29. C Stanley,
    It’s good to see you’re at least honest about the imperial/fascist reasons for invading Iraq.

    Your reasoning is based on two big false assumptions, that we somehow have a right to the oil in Iraq and the we are always a benevolent force in the world (aka the “what’s good for America is good for the world” doctrine).

    You know, we setup organizations like the United Nations and the Nuremburg courts to prevent countries from doing what we are now doing. Using military force without provocation. Killing innocent people in a war with a nation that never threatened us. Taking, by force, the resources of a country that we have no right to.

    C Stanley, what you are advocating is a return to international lawlessness, where nothing is outside the realm of vital “national interests.” Under your system, it would be okay for any country to invade any other country as long as they “needed” some natural resource there.

    Is that really what you want?

  30. C Stanley-

    Ow! You’re a good shot! :)

    But I still think you’re wrong when you say:

    because without troops defending us, none of the rest would be possible

    Because you could say that about other groups:

    Without farmers, we’d die of starvation and “none of the rest would be possible”

    Without doctors and nurses, we’d die of disease and “none of the rest would be possible”

    And so on.

    Perhaps you’re right in that this isn’t the right place or time for these particular comments. But I think that at some point soon we have to ask ourselves what we believe about the role of the military in society, and not just operate on auto-pilot, doing and saying the things we’ve always done and said.

  31. Chris,
    Where did I ever state that the US (or any other nation) should invade a foreign country and take its resources? Iraq now has a sovereign, elected govt (albeit one with a tentative hold on power.) That govt just signed into law a policy regarding oil exploration which allows foreign investment which will no doubt be mainly US oil companies. The US govt didn’t make this policy, the Iraqi govt did. They saw the need for this investment in order to get the billions of dollars needed to modernize their oil exploration and drilling capacity. The Iraqi people are determining their own right to their natural resources, which they were never able to do under Saddam.

  32. C Stanley,
    You must seriously be joking.

    Where did I ever state that the US (or any other nation) should invade a foreign country and take its resources?

    Did you forget that you wrote this? “Is it difficult to understand then, that Saddam was standing in the way of a vital resource needed by our population? And when you combine that with what he was doing to his own population, that there were morally sound reasons to remove him?”

    Iraq now has a sovereign, elected govt

    This could not be further from the truth. Iraq’s government exists entirely at the whim of the U.S. government. What do you think would happen if the Iraqi government decided to merge Iraq’s territory with Iran?

    Not only that, but we poured millions into influencing the elections in Iraq to make sure they came out the way we wanted.

    The US govt didn’t make [the oil] policy, the Iraqi govt did.

    The United States demanded that the new government enact this legislation. And most Iraqis don’t even know what the law actually says.

  33. Chris said:
    February 27, 2007 at 10:50 am
    C Stanley,
    You must seriously be joking.

    Where did I ever state that the US (or any other nation) should invade a foreign country and take its resources?

    Did you forget that you wrote this? “Is it difficult to understand then, that Saddam was standing in the way of a vital resource needed by our population? And when you combine that with what he was doing to his own population, that there were morally sound reasons to remove him?�

    No, I’m not joking at all, and I didn’t forget my comment. How does it follow from my comment that Saddam should have been removed that I’m saying that the US should then seize the assets of Iraq? You obviously have a more cynical view of the elections and legitimacy of the current government than I do, but given the way you misconstrue my comments and some of the links that you provided, I’m not inclined to be persuaded by your arguments.

    Here’s what I mean about your links:
    You wrote that the US demanded these oil deals. Here’s what the link you provided actually said:

    Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she had stressed the importance of making rapid progress on the oil law with Iraqi leaders when she was in Baghdad last week. But she said she recognized the difficulty of the task.

    and

    The Bush administration, facing growing pressure to end the Iraq conflict, has been urging the Iraqis to finish the new oil law.

    Huh? Where’s the demand? Or does “urging” or “stressing the importance” equal “demanding”?

    Then you say that most Iraqis don’t understand what the oil legislation says. First, I don’t see any facts to support that statement in the link you provided, and even if this is true, do most Americans understand most US legislation that is passed? If no, does that mean that we don’t have a legitimate government?

  34. “How does it follow from my comment that Saddam should have been removed that I’m saying that the US should then seize the assets of Iraq?”
    He was standing between the US and a “vital resource”, as you said. Removing him and then not getting control over the “vital resource” doesn’t make much sense.

  35. Uh, perhaps we understood that a freely elected Iraqi govt would see the wisdom of participating in the worldwide free market, Gray? And that the international community would no longer need to impose the sanctions that were crippling the Iraqi oil industry?

  36. “Uh, perhaps we understood that a freely elected Iraqi govt would see the wisdom of participating in the worldwide free market, Gray?”

    Yeah, just like Venzuela! :P

  37. Well, we took a risk that a Venezuela like situation would develop, didn’t we? I’m sure that we did whatever we could to influence it in the other direction, but since that’s in the best interests of us AND the Iraqis, I’m not losing any sleep over that.

  38. Well, we took a risk that a Venezuela like situation would develop, didn’t we?

    Not really. The Iraqi government exists at Washington’s whim. They won’t do anything that significantly pisses off the Bush administration.

    What we did risk is chaos and open rebellion to our occupation, which is what has happened.

  39. “Well, we took a risk that a Venezuela like situation would develop, didn’t we?”
    Actually, the US took the risk (regarding the demographics, it was like a 99% chance imho), but I’m not so sure Bush and the Neocons were really aware of it in their state of delusion. And there isn’t such thing as an interest of the Iraqis, there are interests of Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds, but for the foreseeable future it’s the Shiites that count. Believing that they would steer a course that’s hostile to Iran is ridiculous. And they don’t like the US much. I woldn’t bet on them showing much enthusiasm for selling oil to the Americans. This whole argument about the need to ‘free’ the resources is just a house of cards. Worst reasoning I ever heard from you, CS.
    :-/

  40. Oh, and if you think that recent oil law is a victory for the US, think twice. Getting a paper signed is simple. Creating a situation where foreign oil companies can actually work in Iraq and deliver the barrels is hard. They are killing Iraqis who work with the US. What will they do to foreign oil specialists? The resources may be there, but it’s the Mahdi Army and other insurgents who control the flow.

  41. And there isn’t such thing as an interest of the Iraqis, there are interests of Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds, but for the foreseeable future it’s the Shiites that count. Believing that they would steer a course that’s hostile to Iran is ridiculous. And they don’t like the US much. I woldn’t bet on them showing much enthusiasm for selling oil to the Americans. This whole argument about the need to ‘free’ the resources is just a house of cards. Worst reasoning I ever heard from you, CS.

    Ah, well, sorry to have disappointed you, Gray. Of course I disagree with your assessment. Countries don’t sell oil to other countries, or allow their companies to invest in extraction of their oil, because they like the other country or want to be nice to them. They do so because it’s in their own interest to do so. A resource is only as valuable as the ability to use it and sell it. The Iraqi govt recognizes this, and despite the sectarian divide, there are people in Iraq who recognize that they can be much stronger and much more financially secure as Iraqis than they can as Kurds, Shi’a and Sunnis. The hatred and distrust are still there and are being exploited, but there definitely are those who recognize that none of the three factions can be strong enough to survive on its own (with the possible exception of Kurdistan, but I think even the Kurds know they’d be on shaky ground if they were to secede; they know they would need to annex Kirkuk, but they also know that this would further ignite hostilities and would bring Turkey into the fighting, and they don’t seem willing to risk that at the moment.)

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