A Menagerie of Outspoken Opinions on Science, World Politics, and Geek Culture

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Who Fights?

A couple weeks ago an old college friend asked me a question in the comment thread of this post. Though I doubt he meant to be accusatory, he was, more or less, calling me a chickenhawk (someone who is not in the military but is willing to commit troops to battle). War supporters are used to this; if I had a dollar for every chickenhawk accusation leveled at me over the past three years I’d be able to take both my buddy and his wonderful fiancé out for a nice dinner and plenty of drinks … and like me, they have fairly expensive tastes in that regard.

Now, I use the inclusive “we” when writing about America’s fight against terror: We have to smash Al Qaeda, we have to end Saddam’s tyranny, we have to bring secular democracy to Arabia. I also use lots of personal and possessive pronouns: My country, our war, they won’t take me without a fight, etc… Some people see this as a problem; after all, it’s unlikely that I’ll actually do any fighting. The most I can claim is that I pay my taxes, give $50 or $75 a month to charities like Spirit of America and Operation Gratitude, and try to support our troops with my nominally readable prose. Is that enough? Does that make it my fight? Or am I just doing those things to clear my conscience, allowing me to live fat and happy here at home while someone else does the fighting in Afghanistan or Iraq?

The answers, as best I can see them, are no, yes, and I don’t think so.

First of all, we civilians shouldn’t kid ourselves: Nothing we do or give can ever match the sacrifice of the soldier. It’s great that we pay our taxes, and vote for people who will see to it that the money is spent on giving our troops the best possible equipment and training. It’s wonderful that we donate to charities that make our soldier’s lives a little more comfortable and their jobs a little easier. I’m happy when I see “usmc.mil” and “airforce.gov” among my visitors, and I sincerely hope that what they read here makes them feel appreciated. But none of that amounts to dry shit when compared to someone who actually puts on that uniform, picks up their weapon, and says, essentially, “Anyone who wants to hurt an American tonight is going to have to come through me first.” What civilians like me do is, at best, responsible and kind and supportive. What soldiers do is courageous.

What I can say for myself – and it’s true for almost every non-military war supporter I know – is that if my country asked for my service, I’d answer "yes" in a heartbeat. Without a second thought. Like many, I called a recruiter in the worrisome days after September 11th, 2001. The recruiter said "How old are you". I said "Thir-". He said "We’ll call you if we really need you." I keep myself in fairly good shape, but I’m not the wiry, quick-recovering testosterone golem that I was at 19. And the military knows it.

So, like many millions of others, I’m relegated to the sidelines unless the war escalates into a huge, World War Two-scale emergency. I’ll have to stick with responsible, kind, and supportivecourageous will only come if circumstances get truly dire (which we all, of course, very much hope they do not).

But back to the question now: Is it my war? Do I have the right to say “We’re winning, or we should go here and do this, or our guys are doing a great job”? Well, what’s the other option? That civilians aren’t allowed to have pro-war positions? That we can gripe and squeak with the anti-war nitwits if we like, but if we want to get behind the military with our words and thoughts and prayers we’re not allowed? That we’re somehow being disingenuous because we agree that it’s better to kill their killers before those killers come to get our civilians again?

That’s absurd.

I understand very, very well that it’s not my ass getting shot at in Fallujah. But I also understand that it’ll eventually be all of our asses if someone doesn’t go to Fallujah and do what needs to be done. When I say I or we or our I’m intentionally using those words, because radical Islam wants me and us and ours destroyed. Hopefully this war will never rise to the level where ordinary civilians have to take a fighting role – in fact, the reason we’re fighting it the way we are is to ensure that doesn’t happen – but if we do, I’ll be the first to volunteer. My life means a lot to me, but the survival of my civilization and species means more. And there is no way I can prove any of that to a doubter; those who are willing will simply have to take my word for it, and those who aren’t can privately sneer at my presumed cowardice. Your call.

In any case, it is unlikely that I’ll be a warrior in this or any other war. It won’t be me who liberates nations from thugs and theocrats. I won’t bring democracy to the oppressed and prosperity to the poor. And I won’t come home on a medical C-130 or, worse, in a flag-draped coffin. But I will do one thing: I’ll try as hard as I possibly can to be a citizen who is worth the sacrifices our soldiers make for us. Not a griper but a supporter. Not someone who makes a Marine think “What the hell am I doing this for?”, but instead someone who makes him say “These people are worthy of my protection and I know they appreciate what I’m doing.” Not all of us can be – or need to be – brave soldiers of the republic. But we all definately should be citizens deserving of their courage and sacrifice.