Can You Support the Troops Without Supporting the War?

Rob recently quoted our Prime Minister:

“You cannot say you are for our military and then not stand behind the things they do,” said Harper. “We don’t start fights, but we finish them and we won’t leave until they’re done.”

It’s extremely common for liberal politicians to spout some variation on “I don’t support this war, but I do support the troops.” That always struck me as wishy-washy, and seemed to render these troops as unthinking automatons or poor saps who are just doing their job. The latter, of course, is kind of true.

Prime Minster Harper’s comment seems directly levelled at those in the opposition who are floating this idea. I’ve gotta tell you, I kind of agree with him.

What do we really mean when we say ‘I support the troops’? Something like “hey, good job over there, engaging in a conflict I totally disagree with. I’m really proud.” That doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it? It’s a bit like being a Mets fan yet supporting the Yankees as well, because they come from the same city.

How can something be bad at the macro level but supportable at the micro level? It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Yes, our troops are over-taxed and under-equipped in Afghanistan. Yes, they’re getting killed and wounded at an alarming rate. But that, as far as I can figure, is what they signed up for.

UPDATE: Rob struggles with sports metaphors but provides a thoughtful reply.


  1. I guess the ambiguity lies with the word “support”.

    I think some people “respect” our troops, but can still disagree with their mission.

    That being said, I do support our troops, and I do generally support the general mission they have. Am I a right wing conservative? No. Am I a liberal? neither.
    I’m a patriot.
    *put hands on heart and sings the anthem*

    (the last part, I was kidding, of course)

    1. Ok, so I read what most of you have to say and I am concerned that one point was not really touched upon for clear understanding. In america, as an enlisty myself i found i was surrounded more and more by criminals. The rate in which criminals are being intrigrated into our military is growing at a scary rate. When you drive past your local base of any branch with poeple and signs up stating “support your troops” they are unaware that those troops, fellow citizens or imigrants are in need of money more then fighting for thier country. (not in the military’s entirety but significant enough to address). the reasons for this are numorus….young 17/18 year old without direction (me), a criminal forced into this or jail, a lazy irresponsible person again due to societal economic implosion and elites pursant of polarization between classes ,and family settings without direction from that brainwashing boob tube, etc. most of us enlisting are unaware of what acually goes on behind closed doors either within your unit, branch of service or America’s/Uk’s political agenda. If a portion of that quote above was the true, well then i would have little to say, but “We don’t start fights, but we finish them and we won’t leave until they’re done.” is a false statement in its entirety Mr. Prime minister. Starting from the Uk’s involvement with china and opium, you have conspired to dumb down nations, implode and take over to enslave them for your special interest toxic capitalism. (namely precious resources) America is just as guilty, dont get me wrong, but, the brianwashing that is continued today over the western world population icluding invading countries over terrorism/ nuclear threats is perposterous. The mere fact that we as a duo essentialy are taking the world over 1 country at a time by sniping the governemts to death with so called intentions to “spread democracy” (with military force ofcourse-Double think) is unethical, immorral, murderous and condeming!
      Reasons waged for unethical and illeagal wars on countries such as iraq, kosovo, pakistan, niciragua, panama, soon to be iran, and venezuela, are becoming more apperant from an avg. dumbed down/highly medicated person to an already highly educated human that we are essentially conquering the world in similar fashion of previous centuries. Hell, the UK has been doing it since the 1200’s and even before! What my concern is, most people in our countries are not aware the implications of our actions.
      This current red brick road we stroll along is poisonous. from the start of capitolism in 1873ish to now, we have been systematicly impoverished of what real humanism and real life is. technology has changed the playing field of our way of living including conquest, but our way of living is what many scientists consider as buying time befor the inevitable. the christians and all other religions talk about the rapture, arrmaggedon and such becuase we always have known that time changes times of prosperity and poverty. we in the U.S./ Uk are in prosperity, but mark my words the tides will turn to a different era, where buying your maybach and eating fast food will becopme obsolite. The tyrrany of each state involved in mass exicution, takeovers, and rapings of others states on earth do come with cost. Most importantly the cost of humanitys sanity. not a doomsday but rather a renicanse(spelling) of sorts, opening the windows and doors refreshing what kind of stank the world leaders are into. it is up to you to say no, I will not sell out for money if my intentions are nothing but serving as a drone to a greater cause aka government agenda, and will not fight to kill another human being. until the mob mentality can be erased from our minds and we collectively advance as a whole for enlightinment, free from schacles of materialism and totalitarism, you the reader, me the woken up writer, and the rest of the world will submit to what is considered reality. Always learn, be open minded, choose what you think is benificial for you and your fellow brother and sister for progression to enlightenment. national soverinty must be kept in place. NO to NWO. My constitution is what stands between me and another soviet union, north korea, nazi germany, and other selfdestructive forms of goverment. every person has the right to be free in thier heart and in society. using vulnerable persons within your country to invade others to suit a capitalistic need is trechorous and needs to be extinguished immediatly. just say no to fighting. so no to troops whom go along with the agenda blindly. thank you

  2. Brem makes my point better than I could. What is meant by “support”? I wish them a speedy resolution with a minimum of casualties on BOTH sides, as I would in any military endeavour, but that does not mean I agree with the reasons given for their involvement.

  3. Our government supports our troops so much that they are sending them out on a hopeless, ill-defined, and underfunded mission.

    In order to honour the fallen, our soldiers must keep falling. And it is the duty of all patriots to insist on this unassailable logic.

  4. I support the people doing the work, not necessarily the people directing the work.

    It’s like the fact that I really like Americans, as people, but I really dislike the current administration.

    I hope every one of our troops is safe and is doing the best job they can. I hope their families are safe, able to get by, and will see their loved one(s) return. I also hope that the people in charge are considering all options and figuring out which ones will lead to long-term peace rather than an endless cycle of fighting.

    Another example would be that I don’t have any issues with the customer service people at Telus when I have to talk with them and they can’t help me. They can’t help me because the people in charge have made it that way. It’s not their the handler’s fault that they are not equipped to deal with my situation.

    A twist on “Don’t shoot the messenger” perhaps? The soldier is delivering the message, but he certainly didn’t write it.

    Aside -> Was Harper wearing lipstick again when you saw him on the TV?

    Darren said:
    “How can something be bad at the macro level but supportable at the micro level?”

    You started out talking about the “troops” and finished by talking about the cause.

  5. Jeremy: How do you mean that I ‘started out talking about the “troops” and finished by talking about the cause.’

    My concluding statement was:

    “Yes, they’re getting killed and wounded at an alarming rate. But that, as far as I can figure, is what they signed up for.”

    That’s all about the troops.

    They’re skulking around, so let me get it over with and introduce the Nazis. Would it have been morally acceptable for a German citizen to say “I don’t support this war, but I do support the troops”? The troops running the gas chambers were, after all, just delivering the message.

  6. “How can something be bad at the macro level but supportable at the micro level?”


    My mom runs a church food bank that feeds hundreds of people in the Okanagon every year, which I support of course, but I’m not a big fan of organized religion in general.

    What if someone signed up for the army a few years ago, when Canada was known as a peace-keeping nation, and then a few years later our Fearless Leader chooses to invade a random country full of brown people because of a perceived (non-existant) threat. If I disagree with said invasion, do I really blame the soldiers because “that’s what they signed up for”?

    I’m “for the troops” in that I’d rather they not get killed. I think Afghanistan is unwinnable – the Soviets had 15000 deaths and 35000 injuries over 10 years, and there were an estimated 1.8 million Afghans killed. Will our 2300 troops fare much better?

  7. Sorry if I wasn’t clear – it’s still morning…

    I’ll try to clarify what I mean here.

    The article starts out with Harper’s quote:

    “You cannot say you are for our military and then not stand behind the things they do,” said Harper. “We don’t start fights, but we finish them and we won’t leave until they’re done.”


    Then leads to your comment about liberal politicians:

    “It’s extremely common for liberal politicians to spout some variation on ‘I don’t support this war, but I do support the troops.’…”


    The quote I’d pulled from the end of the article was:

    “How can something be bad at the macro level but supportable at the micro level?”

    The “something” you’re talking about here is the cause/war/conflict as opposed to the troops themselves.

    That’s what I was getting at.


    As far as your Nazi question goes – I think it would be entirely fair for a German person to make that claim. I would be willing to bet that a good portion of the German soldiers didn’t agree with what they were required to do, but the structure of power was such that they didn’t have an alternative.


    When the American military launched a preemptive strike against Iraq, I fully supported the troops, but I was appalled at the idea of preemptive warfare, particularly on such weak “evidence”.


    I wasn’t trying to argue with you in the initial post, just trying to separate the ideas.

  8. I think you could say that you want CF troops to be doing good in the world, to be equipped well and trained properly for the missions they’re given. You can say you want them to be safe and to bring safety to others (though let’s face it all armies are trained to cause mass death – that’s what war is).

    But you can say all that while not agreeing with the missions they are given. I think ‘I support the troops’ is an automatic defense that people have to give when saying they object to the war or they risk exactly the kind of accusation that Harper and others would tar them with – that disagreement with the army’s political masters is tantamount to treason and a betrayal of the military. That’s bullshit.

    In the case of Afghanistan, the political arm accepted a task we could not face alone, and in doing so have put the troops into unreasonable harm without much hope of success. I disagree with that, and it doesn’t mean that I don’t suppor the troops.

    What I’d like to see is a good definition of what ‘supporting the troops’ means, as I suspect there would be a lot of them and that the whole concept is little more than hollow rhetoric used to beat the other side up.

  9. All politics aside, everything changes when someone you know is there. More so, when it’s your family. For me, I have two cousins in Iraq right now. My bother is former Air Force, now Air National Guard with tours in both wars with Iraq, plus stints in Bosnia and other international spots where the U.N. needed C-130’s to move. (Yes, I am an American.)

    I get the logic that you’re presenting here, but human emotion is a far more chaotic element to this equation. Sure, it’s the job they signed up for, but no one knows exactly what they are signing up for when they put their name on that line. At the same time, it’s the majority that runs the government, but it’s not the majority of people who choose to send troops where they go.

    War is the most awful job anyone could be paid to do, but the simple fact is that these people are going to work just like you do. They don’t blog. They shoot guns, drive military vehicles, and have bosses give them orders that they are expected to follow. They also have families.

    I can’t give you my exact label of what you can call my political views, but republican or conservative is far from it. When you give someone a hug with a face full of tears, and there’s a 50/50 chance that you’ll never see your brother or cousins again, politics and logic doesn’t mean shit. You just hope that they don’t bite it from a bullet or a roadside bomb, not to mention getting captured and tortured.

    So yes, I do support the troops, but I hardly support Harper or Bush. I also support simple intelligence. War achieves very little, and we keep taking ten steps back for every step forward. Don’t think anyone on either side of the border gets that one yet.

  10. Standing by our troops is almost a religious duty in Canada and the US. But, that does not mean we should not question the missions they are on. If we do not do this, it takes away any sensible debate that might occur about the right missions for the Canadian forces.

  11. > War achieves very little, and we keep taking ten steps back for every step forward. Don’t think anyone on either side of the border gets that one yet.

    Well said. It seems that every conflict we ever get in ends up in hand wringing and recriminations, and the glory is only a flash in a parade or a newspaper. War is a shitstorm that only destroys – that’s what it is. And I do mean WW II by that, as well. Good intentions are good to have, but when the winning side got there by firebombing and nuking cities out of existence, there are no heroes.

  12. Does Harper actually think about what he says. “We don’t start fights but we finish them” I’m presuming that means that the Afghans attacked Canada and Canada had no option but to get involved to the point of no return i.e Canada is the victor and the enemy is vanquished.

    It appears that the “Peacekeeping” mission in Afghanistan has turned into a “War” mission with the sad result that(young)Canadian soldiers are returning home in body bags. No doubt very young Afghans are also being killed in vast numbers.

    Afghanistan has been fought over by any number of people for centuries. For Harper to maintain that “We won’t leave until they’re done” is ironic coming from a pudgy man in a suit who hardly lacks in creature comforts and resides safely out of harms way many miles away from a land which has been abused by so many outsiders and insiders.

    Well Stephen I’d like to see a real commitment from your government if you still insist on getting involved in the fight, in a true “Peacekeeping” force(with nerves of steel) which builds schools/hospitals etc. Commits to protecting that force with armed forces which in turn protects that infrastructure.

    I say this only if we insist on getting involved.

    Internal conflicts are best resolved by the participants themselves perhaps with pressure from outsiders (Strong border controls to reduce weapon supplies/opening up Western markets to Afghan goods/addressing the Western Worlds insatiable appetite for heroin etc etc)

    No easy tasks but surely far more wortwhile than hollow sounding breast beating rhetoric from an individual who I hope can sleep well at night with the senseless deaths of Canadian soldiers even if they have “signed” up for the job.

  13. Hi Darren:

    Please forgive a long comment, but your question begs a full and comprehensive response.

    I did seven years in the Forces; peaceful ones, fortunately. And being “killed and wounded at an alarming rate” was not what I signed up for.

    There is an inherent responsibility in command, to safeguard the lives of those who have volunteered to lay them down for you, to make certain they are not needlessly wasted. Our current government have forgotten this duty.

    Now the nation we went out to help is distracted by a sideshow war, their effectiveness blunted. And roughly a third of our casualties were inflicted by our allies.

    Far from achieving the original objective of a “peaceful, stable, and democratic” Afghanistan we are being drawn into “The War Against Terror”, and finding ourselves allied with the one western democracy to legalize torture.

    I support the troops. They deserve a lot more money, better gear, and more visible support from the populace than they get.

    I used to believe in the Afghan mission too; to believe that our being there was important to how we are perceived worldwide.

    And for that same reason, we should make our apologies and bring the troops home until the United States agrees to abide by the Geneva conventions, letter and spirit.

    Those men and women didn’t put their asses on the line to support torture, Dubya’s personal aggrandizement, or a “better relationship” between Steve Harper and the current US administration.

    I think it’s time Canada made our position clear. Then if our allies will not stand by our principles as we have stood by theirs these long five years, then we must make a troubled peace with our consciences and bring the troops we support home to their families and loved ones.

    Success in Afghanistan is not possible without committment, popular support, and moral leverage. None of which we can honestly claim right now.

    Let us either renew these elements or withdraw. I will continue to support the troops either way.

    Oh–and US soldiers DO blog, John. There are many, many milblogs. And check this out–fresh from the wire.

  14. Metro, so you prefer taliban torture to american torture?

    Wow, that’s an interesting conculsion to somersault to. What exactly in Metro’s post had the slightest suggestion of that line of thought?

  15. I think the whole “support our troops” line emerged out of Vietnam, when in the U.S. at least many soldiers were shocked when they returned home to be vilified and in some cases actually spit upon by protesters and others who disagreed with the war.

    Previously, no one really questioned that you would support (i.e. respect) the troops, because in Korea and World War II and before, everyone was expected to support not only the troops but also the war. And at the time it made a lot of sense.

    But the past 35 years are a different era, a less certain one, when democratic governments wage wars that significant portions of their populations oppose. We have had to bifurcate our thinking about soliders and wars. If we think the Iraq and Afghanistan missions are bad, would we spit on the soliders coming home? I wouldn’t.

    Let’s take Darren’s Nazi example and make it personal. My grandfather was a footsolider in the Nazi army. As far as I know he shot guns in battles, as did many in the Allied armies, and he ran no gas chambers and captured no Jews. He himself was captured late in the war and spent the rest of it in a Russian PoW camp, where he became ill (tuberculosis or something similar) and never really recovered. He survived the war but died in 1947 in a Berlin hospital.

    What little I know of him indicates he was a decent man at heart, though he died more than 20 years before I was born. Can I respect him now? Would I have “supported” him as a soldier? Even though he was part of the Nazi war machine? I don’t know.

  16. > so you prefer taliban torture to american torture?

    Torture is a sick practice no matter who is doing it, and no matter their reason. If we think we need to be degraded and animalistic to win, we’ve already lost anything worth fighting for.

  17. @double-plus-ungood
    Let’s turn that around: do you prefer American torture to Taliban torture?

    Does that sound as silly to you as it does to me?

    If we’re going to adopt the tactics of the people we characterize as “the enemies of civilisation”, then how will we know if the good guys win?

    There is little to suggest that the current generation of fighters in Afghanistan is “Taliban” rather than part of a loose arrangement of people agitating for political change through violence, whose members include poppy farmers and groups operating under the Al-Q umbrella.

    But whoever they are–they are criminals, not just to the US but to most of the civilized world, as personified by the UN.

    If they commit acts of murder and torture, they know that if they are caught they will face punishment.

    The US has legalized torture. In the act that was passed there exists a paragraph specifically written to shield W. and co. from any threat of prosecution of punishment for war crimes (under US law) committed after September 12th, 2001. So they can go on torturing, secure in the knowledge that they will never face a trial for it.

    Who is the more terrible: the criminals who torture and kill knowing it to be a criminal act, or the erstwhile civilized nation that makes torture part of its legal fabric?

    And how can I, as a former soldier and “supporter of the troops”, favour supporting a regime that reserves the right to torture, knowing that the first casualty will be what little respect the Geneva Conventions retain?

    I cannot support the use of our troops to prop up such strategy.

    “Double-plus-ungood”–Is that a quote from Niven & Pournelle, by the way?

  18. Metro, it was Brem that made the statement about torture, I was just responding to it with incredularity (look directly above my comment for Brem’s)

    And “double-plus-ungood” is from George Orwell’s 1984. The totalitarian state therein is attempting to control thought by changing the language so that there are less words in it (if one isn’t able to express ideas in thought or speech, then certain concepts can be eliminated from human thought and society, freedom and individuality ferinstance).

    “Newspeak”, the name of the state-approved version of English, eliminates words like “bad”, which can be expressed as “ungood”. “Plus-ungood” would be “very bad”, and “double-plus-ungood” would be as bad as it gets.

  19. Urgh–sorry DPU. Note to self: post comments only after first cuppa coffee.

    Obviously I need to re-read 1984. I recall the term from Inferno, a Niven/Pournelle trip through Hell. Perhaps a sly tip of the hats to Orwell?

    Anyway, thanks for the correction.

  20. I recall the term from Inferno, a Niven/Pournelle trip through Hell. Perhaps a sly tip of the hats to Orwell?

    Could be. IMO, that novel was one of the less repugnant Niven/Pournelle co-authorings, which doesn’t say much.

    Sorry, I’m just a far bigger fan of the pre-Pournelle Niven 🙂

  21. Darren, when you ask how something can be bad at the macro level but supportable at the micro level I had to pause to try and figure my views out – which is always a good exercise.

    For me, I DO support our troops. I even go so far as to wear red on Fridays. I support them on a macro level in that I support the need for a nation to have some kind of military presence. I believe that troops, in this way, ARE the macro and are, to me, more important than a specific war or tour of duty.

    So, this is why I support our troops, but I do not support the reasons they are in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is only a small part of the picture of our military and our need for them – however, a mistake that keeps getting larger and larger.

    Does that make sense?

  22. The argument that you cannot support the troops without supporting the war is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. That’s like me stating that I support teachers, but don’t like how the principals, and other administrators under-pay and overwork them, then having some stooge saying “Well, you can’t support the teachers if you don’t support the administrative officials.”

    Come on! I can support what the troops do: sacrificing there lives and energy for the safety of our nation, without having to bow down and blindly agree on how the U.S. government uses them. The troops don’t get to choose what war they fight or not.

  23. At age 70 I well remember the awful way our troops returning from Vietnam were treated. I said to myself “never again”! The point is that if the mission is one we disagree with, that doesn’t stop us from showing troops we care about them. I am on several troop support websites and send mail and packages many times a week. I simply say “Thank you for serving”.The sites I am active on are non-political in content. So yes, one CAN be against the war, but for the warriors.I never tell the troops “you don’t belong there”-I write about caring about them and my prayers that they will stay well, stay safe.

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