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Troop Supporters: Neither in Lock Step Nor Complicated

written by Kanani Fong
on December 02, 2010

"I worry of America's continued unhealthy worship of soldiers, where support[ing] the troops no matter what easily becomes support for the war." — Jonathan Kim, of ReThink Reviews on The Young Turks

In his quasi-review of Restrepo (which is less about the film than it is to espouse his own opinion of the war), Jonathan Kim expresses his concern about what he perceives as a lemming-like mindset of those who support the troops. I know, maybe it's the Army flag and the American flag hanging outside my house, the 3ID Bulldog sticker on my car, or perhaps it's the yellow ribbon on my lapel. To people like him, I'm just another nutter hell bent on supporting chaos, mayhem and destruction wherever the military sets foot.

fong dog.jpg

Louie, war supporter

Even my dog, with his ACU collar is fodder. No doubt Louie is a vicious, squirrel-seeking dog. I've run across enough people like Mr. Kim. Often they've made up their minds about me and my tribe. They make assumptions about my politics, how I live, how much fuel I consume, and probably think I don't recycle.

But they're wrong.

No one I know of, including myself, worships soldiers. We tend to worship God, Buddha, Allah, or whatever other deities we were raised with. Many are atheists, and some are polytheists. We know service members and veterans don't walk on water. Sometimes they are a pain in the ass. They are only as human as we are, and that's why we support them.

Besides, the other option is to marginalize them, as was done by society after the Vietnam war. In 1980, I was a young student at a university located next to a VA hospital. Often, I'd walk across the street at lunch time to the local grocery store. Usually, on Fridays, there was a veteran in gurney being pushed by an attendant. He was African American, sported a large 'fro, and was rambling and shouting as we waited at the light. I noticed that he seemed awfully short. As I later found out, half of him had been blown away in Vietnam, and he was on a lot of drugs. My response was like that of others who waited at the light: I looked away. I think most of America did back then. Funds to VA hospitals were cut. PTSD treatment didn't exist. In fact, it wasn't even in the DSM. The words Vietnam veteran became synonymous with downtrodden, victim, uneducated, limited and crazy.

Those are very painful years to think of now. Today, a debt of gratitude is owed to the resolve of the Vietnam veterans who said, "Never again will veterans be castigated." Things have evolved. Now, there is an unprecedented level of awareness about service members and veterans not seen since WWII. This alone is something to be very proud of. To go back to the days of not talking about veterans, service or soldiers is unthinkable.

Just recently, we received word from a soldier to whom a group of us send packages. He thanked us, told us the mail truck pulled up and only two boxes came off. They were both for him. "I told my men, when I get mail, everyone gets mail." The arrival of mail was a huge morale boost. If affirming their humanity by sending over a box is unhealthy, then my tribe is the unhealthiest bunch of hooligans ever imagined. The only vaccination against us is arrogance and a stone cold heart.

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The fruits of a box packer's labor.

Perhaps Mr. Kim isn't familiar with the troop support groups who work together on a wide variety of projects. From knitters and box packers to those who teach yoga at VA hospitals, the sole reason for support is to let those who serve know they matter. Each box sent, every time a yoga teacher and a PTSD sufferer find their breath, when someone writes about the difficulties of veterans finding jobs or about overwhelmed caretakers needing help, it's driven out of only one thing: unconditional love. Because the truth is without a love that is deeply spiritual, we would lose sight and get stuck in the morass of politics. While debating why we are there, should we stay there, and whether or not things are working is an essential part of a free society, it's very important we not get lost in the debate and ignore the less than one percent who serve. Believe me, most choose the debate rather than wade into the murky waters while trying to help their fellow man.

Those who serve are there at the behest of our culture, history and politics. They have volunteered, and our history of leaving them on the fringes after Vietnam is one that we need not to repeat. In daily discussions with veterans who are struggling with everything from the GI Bill to trying to get treatment for medical conditions and PTSD, we know their struggle is exhausting. We also know that so much of the public would just as soon forget about them. The strands of support after combat are fragile. We have much work to do on their behalf, and it will take the same determination they had when they took the oath to serve our country.

Mr. Kim is also incorrect in suggesting that support for our troops inevitably leads to blanket support for the war. This is an awful stereotype. There are plenty of disagreements about intent, strategy and outcome. Persons who write for the same blog or work on projects together can have differing opinions. Discussions are held on boards large and small. Not only our feelings, but also our knowledge of the war and the history of Afghanistan is more in-depth and complex than most realize.

Truth is, our tribe consists of individuals from all quarters. The right and the left, the box packers, knitters, yoga doers, people working on behalf of the homeless, filmmakers, writers, artists, quilters, bakers, t-shirt makers, fundraisers and more. What draws them together is more than lapel pins or flags. It's a commitment to supporting these men and women over the course of their lifetime, to help them find avenues that lead to happy, productive lives. Those who make assumptions about troop supporters should heed a quote from Plato:

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."

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