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Friday, June 29, 2007

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Tim

Interesting. I've read your posts about the Chicago Bears. It's obvious you support that team. Your enthusiasm and knowledge of the coaches, players and strategies is apparent. You obviously want them to win and criticize, cajole and cheer them throughout the season.

Is that the kind of support you've shown here for the military and troops? Are you asking if "support the troops" means showing the same amount of interest in them and desire to win as you put on display regularly for the Chicago Bears?

Agricola

Or, one could say that the "Support Our Troops" mentality comes from the same portion of the American public that memorializes the tragic loss of the firefighters. It is a "public" expression of good will, not intended to "say" anything other than to acknowledge a sacrifice.

Daniel

Yes -- I'm a Bears fanatic. But that's kind of my point about war not being an analogy for football, too. "Support the troops" is a simple message about a highly complex subject with some pretty basic decisions on the line: Do you support the troops by sending more of them to war, or by bringing more of them home?

If there's an analogy here it might be this: We've got the world's best football team and we love it, but management made a mistake and booked it to play in an overseas soccer league.

And here's the other thing that's screwy: I'm a supporter of the Chicago Bears as a team/franchise, but not a supporter (per se) of the players. They come and go, hold out, get arrested, do things I like and dislike. The "team" in this case isn't the troops, but the country, and we can't even agree on what game is being played.

Ouch. Makes my head hurt just thinking about it. But does it make sense when I say analogies are powerful, and putting the wrong analogy (consciously our subconciously) on a situation is a great way to set yourself up for fundamental misreadings of what happening?

And Agricola, I think it was the outpouring of emotion around the nine firefighters that helped me focus on this. I tend to be suspicious of these kinds of situations because of the way politicians and the media manipulate them for specific purposes, and

I'm not disavowing that. But it's also very obvious to me that I need to change my attitude if I really want to understand what motivates the public outpouring and demonstrations of support and solidarity. Yes, these situations are manipulated in crass ways, but also yes there are simple motivations from individuals that range from pure agape love to deep feelings about the value of community, history and sacrifice.

I think part of what gives me a cynical impulse is the admitted fact that, like a lot of cynics, I'm a wounded idealist. And I get the feeling that cynicism is a bad thing -- that we need to protect and value our ability to believe in what's good about each other.

Part of protecting that ability (imho) is finding ways to oppose the manipulators of sincere emotion, be they motivated by politics or commerce or ideology, because it's that betrayal of sincerity that does so much to create cynics. And I just can't figure out how to do that yet. How do you prove it? How do you spot it? How can you fairly say it? But most of us encounter it, one way or another, and our inability to talk about that experience constructively hurts us individually and as a society.

In the long run, the only thing I've really figured out that I can do to "support the troops" in any meaningful way to advocate the services that the troops need in the field and when they get home. Strategic discussions really aren't about supporting/not supporting the troops -- they're about strategy. But fixing the Walter Reed scandal is about our promise to the people we send to war. Pressuring Pentagon bureaucrats to do more about providing armor for soldiers and vehicles is about the troops, not the wisdom of the mission. So I write letters to my representatives about that stuff.

Tim

Peter Levine also tried to answer "Support our Troops": what should we say to our soldiers in Iraq?

re: war not being an analogy for football

All analogies are imperfect and some are less useful than others. But this one's yours, so let's have fun with it, OK?

re: Do you support the troops by sending more of them to war, or by bringing more of them home?

Sticking with your analogy (and because football rules limit the number of players you can have on the field), would this be similar to asking whether to put in different players, to pass or rush, to punt or go for the first down? Or is it like saying, "Man, it's half-time and we're not winning decisively. Let's support our players and forfeit so nobody else gets hurt." (BTW, I disagree with "The 'team' in this case isn't the troops, but the country, and we can't even agree on what game is being played." I also disagree with your comparison of Iraq to an overseas soccer match. But that's also a country old debate about the role of the military.)

I agree with you that making sure our elected and military leaders meet their commitments to our troops is support. But in the decision of whether or not to surge, how do you decide what's support? I chose to support the troops by examining the strategy to surge in a 3-part series: The Surge as Stabilty and Support (with links to previous posts at the bottom).

I'm certainly not going to defend the scoundrels who use "Support Our Troops" as a shield of patriotism. I also think this football/war analogy can be useful for you to analyze your cynicism.

Agricola

"Part of protecting that ability (imho) is finding ways to oppose the manipulators of sincere emotion, be they motivated by politics or commerce or ideology, because it's that betrayal of sincerity that does so much to create cynics. And I just can't figure out how to do that yet. How do you prove it? How do you spot it? How can you fairly say it? But most of us encounter it, one way or another, and our inability to talk about that experience constructively hurts us individually and as a society."

So well said, Anonymous (Xark?). The cynic that occupies a large part of my consciousness looks askance at the person who basks in the light of the event, who wishes to vocalize what the rest of us feel, instead of doing what the rest do. That said, it seems that our culture adores the public expression of sympathy way more than the older tradition of private expression. While I am sure that many who left a token of their respect at the site also made a donation to a memorial fund, I ask how much larger the funds might be if we all gave up on the public display and simply donated $5 or $10 to the memorial funds. But that kind of act is not the lingua franca of modern grief....so we are left with those who would take advantage of our public expression. One might say that pander has replaced charity as the medium of grief resolution.

Daniel

That's an excellent series, Tim. I had noticed the "Would Sun Tzu Surge?" post before, but even with your suggested relevant question to surge critics ("How does increasing or decreasing the number of troops in Iraq contribute to our willingness to endure, the articulation of a Rule of Law, or the effective administration of that law equally across the population?") I was unable to come up with a complete answer/opinion. And I'm not totally uneducated.

The problem I have with rhetoric that blurs the simple ("support the troops") and the complex ("what combination of strategy and tactics will lead to the 'best' outcome for America?") is that it has the effect of turning up the contrast on a digital photo. In effect, it distorts the image, which then distorts our response to the image. And so on.

Because it's like the issue you raised about the Clinton-era debate over a more activist use of the American military: What's the point of having a military that you never use? And what are the legitimate uses of the military? And once you've determined those legitimate uses, then how should your force be structured to support the new mission? All great questions.

But one thing that we have to remember is that the primary mission of the military is not "support the troops." Supporting the troops is one of many subordinate missions of the military, along with things like "provide timely logistical requirements for force projection." The mission of the military involves putting those troops at risk. If the mission really was a simple as protecting soldiers from harm, then your hypothetical "Man, it's half-time and we're not winning decisively. Let's support our players and forfeit so nobody else gets hurt" would be a perfectly legitimate answer.

Instead, risk and prudence are practical matters that exist in a dynamic balance. My stepfather was an infantry platoon leader late in the Vietnam war. He learned a lot of things quickly, and No. 1 among those lessons was that with the U.S. in the process of disengaging from the war, keeping his men alive was actually a far more compelling real-world mission than the various taskings that came down to him. He served with distinction and never lost a man and was quickly promoted and moved up the chain. His replacement came in with a different attitude, and the platoon immediately suffered heavy losses.

And I'm reminded of the penultimate episode of "Band of Brothers," when the men of Easy Company were ordered to undertake a second cross-river recon raid. Major Winters compares the value of the mission to the risk to his men and does not require them undertake the patrol. Instead, he files a false report, and everyone from the patrol survives to the German surrender.

To put that in the modern context, whether a particular strategy or tactical decision is "supporting the troops" has a lot to do with how one assesses the value of what is gained by the risk. And that's a very difficult thing for me to assess from my air-conditioned living room. Is the surge supporting the troops? A better question might be "Is the prospect for achieving our stated and unstated goals worth the suffering the effort will demand?"

And that's a question that multiple people can answer differently ... while still remaining in dialog. When that question is replaced by arguments about who Supports/Doesn't Support the troops, disagreement sends us to separate corners.

Daniel

"One might say that pander has replaced charity as the medium of grief resolution."

The cynic in me agrees and supposes that this dynamic between human impulses has long been with us...

Matthew 6:5 - 7

5. And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites [are]: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen [do]: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

Tim

re: And I'm not totally uneducated.

Yeah, for an Irish-hating, scholarship-envying cynical meathead ... you do OK. I'll give you that. ;-)

re: And that's a question that multiple people can answer differently ... while still remaining in dialog. When that question is replaced by arguments about who Supports/Doesn't Support the troops, disagreement sends us to separate corners.

Agreed. But I find more utility and people with integrity in the "Support the Troops" crowd than the "Chickenhawk, if you really supported the [war/troops] you'd be in the military in Iraq!" crowd. There's no utility in that and it's often used offensively rather than defensively (I've been the recipient of "chickenhawk" attacks in the past).

Tim

re: The problem I have with rhetoric that blurs the simple ("support the troops") and the complex ("what combination of strategy and tactics will lead to the 'best' outcome for America?") is that it has the effect of turning up the contrast on a digital photo. In effect, it distorts the image, which then distorts our response to the image. And so on.

I had a pretty strong reaction to this and wanted to think about my response. Xark constantly engages in this kind of distortion with photoshopped propaganda, culture war rhetoric and loaded military terms (Chickenhawk, REMF, MCF, ...).

Are these honest expressions of a wounded idealists?

Also, a reminder, I added a comment for the correct link.

Daniel

Anybody who would refer to Tim as a chickenhawk is just... stupid.

And it's fair criticism to point out that I use Photoshop cartoons, jokes and generalizations to make political statements. What I'd offer in response is this: When I make a "Neocon Comics" Photoshop of Dick Cheney bombing the Constitution, I'm clearly expressing a political opinion about both Cheney and his allies. I'm taking a side and I'm making fun of a U.S. official in a way that's not in any way civil.

Saying "support the troops" isn't an overtly political/partisan statement. That's why my perception of its partisan undertones interests me. Do other people sense them, too? Am I wrong in my assessment?

The mainstream journalistic view is that someone like me (who doesn't cover politics anymore) should never express any political opinion, ever. That view says that the criticism that it opens you too isn't worth the risk. I think it's OK to have and express opinions, but I accept that that means I'm open to legit criticism. I think I'd rather be flawed than boring and safe right now.

I don't want to write off any of the kinds of expression that are available to me. I think what Cheney is claiming is outrageous and practically demands satire. But there are also arguments made by the administration that I think require serious consideration. I do both, even though I know that doing both makes me look inconsistent. The fact is, I AM inconsistent.

Tim

re: Anybody who would refer to Tim as a chickenhawk is just... stupid.

Thanks, Dan, but that hasn't been my response. I can still remember the first time it was even implied during the white phosphorus debate.

My reaction wasn't, "Gee, that Kevin is stupid." but rather, "What an ignorant thing to say." and not just ignorant because he said it about me (which was funny-ignorant instead of whatever his intent really was).

I actually sent Kevin an email asking if he would like to debate the white phosphorus topic in more detail. He never responded.

I see it used frequently against others and that does bother me. That's not funny-ignorant to me.

I agree with you that your "Photoshop cartoons, jokes and generalizations" are "overtly political/partisan statement[s]." I'm not sure how that doesn't "distort[] the image, which then distorts our response to the image. And so on." [link added]

Since the thread topic is the surge, compare the discussion here with The "Korea Model". Isn't this a good example where you've done both? Thoughts?

I agree with you that "support the troops" isn't an overtly political/partisan statement. I don't agree with your perception of its partisan undertones. Instead, I see "support the troops" co-opted by partisans (sometimes). And I've seen it on the Left (Kosovo) and Right (Iraq).

Put me in the column where journalists should be free to express their political opinions outside of their news journalism assignments. I completely disagree with Kurtz:

The scorecard -- 125 of 144 donations to Democrats -- provides fresh ammunition to those who say the press has a liberal tilt. It's hard to argue you don't favor one party when you've just coughed up cash for that party.
The ammunition isn't the fake realization that journalists have political opinions but the fake denial that they do. Training journalists not to vote or express a personal political opinion (with cash or at a invited lecture) divides journalists from the public - unnecessarily:
We practiced journalism with zeal and, occasionally, foolhardy abandon. We took up the implicit demands – the implicit responsibility inherent in the First Amendment – and let people know our editorial mind when most of them would have happily been spared that opportunity. We covered our region, warts and all.

And we participated in the life and civic causes of our town – Greenville, Mississippi – with avocational fervor. We saw ourselves as citizens as well as journalists. We saw ourselves not simply as a mirror reflecting what was happening in the community, or as its critics, but as indivisible from it, a piece of the community’s fabric.

ben

I'm sorry to weigh in so late on what has been an excellent, three-person thread. But just a few quick thoughts.

I view the left's "chickenhawk" accusation as equivalent, at least in tone, to the right's "Why do you hate freedom/America" accusation. I was searching for an equivalent to "Support the Troops," and I thought of the bumperstickers that read "God bless the whole world - no exceptions."

Both of the latter statements are hard to disagree with without being a "bad person" in a broad cultural sense. As Tim suggests (or at least as I read him), their partisan meaning comes only with a knowledge of the current cultural and political context. And there, Dan is right - "Support the troops" is associated with the Right, generally. But this high ground is not uncontested: My aunt has a yellow ribbon reading "Support the troops: Bring them home."

The debate about distortion is really interesting. What sort of political rhetoric doesn't distort, in one way or another? In some ways, it seems to me that Jon Stewart's satire actually strips away a layer of distortion - the sort that would seriously argue that the Vice President is not part of the executive branch, for example. For that matter, doesn't South Park's satire reveal some of the ridiculouness of the left (I'm thinking of the hippie jam band concert episode, among others)?

Do both oversimplify? Yes. But is that always a distortion? Or can we distort things by focusing so much on the details that we miss the forest for the trees? I guess I'd argue that satire reminds us of the forest; sloganeering on either side does something less.

Incidentally, there is apparently a body of sociology literature on high school football's role in shaping and reinforcing community values. In that sense, the link to the bumper stickers also makes some sense.

Great thread, though.

Tim

Great comment, Ben.

re: Or can we distort things by focusing so much on the details that we miss the forest for the trees?

How many fingers?

Daniel

I like The Korea Model a lot, because the emotion I was expressing was directed not at the idea we debated here and in the country (can we still "win" in Iraq? Is the idea of going on the offensive to create a temporary security period for a fledgling democracy a practical one? Is the risk worth the benefit? Etc.) but the sense that, yet again, the Bush Administration had misled the public by withholding its true intentions during the actual political discussion.

In other words, had Bush come out back in the fall and clearly stated that his plan for the surge was part of a strategy in which we maintained a military presence in Iraq for decades, the debate would have been different.

Would the outcome have been different? Who knows? But shouldn't we conclude, finally, that this guy simply cannot be trusted when it comes to the Middle East? In the fall I at least entertained the possibility that Bush wanted to make amends and avoid disaster. After his Korea comments, I concluded that Bush has zero credibility on Iraq. His vision for our role in the world can't be presented to the people, I've concluded, because the people would never support it.

Same thing with the "Neocon Comics" Photoshop. It's not in response to Cheney's bizarre role in our electronic eavesdropping program, but to his absurd legal statement about not being part of the Executive Branch.

So I portrayed Cheney as a WWII fighter pilot gleefully attacking the Constitution, an image that literally encourages people to laugh at his actions. Why? Because it's hard for people to support leaders who are laughable, and I want the country to withdraw support for this administration's illegal actions.

I thought warrantless wiretapping was a bad idea, too, and I made cartoons that attacked it. I'm not ashamed of those.

That said, I've made cartoons that I think may have gone over the line, particularly back in 2005-06, when I felt like the nation was acquiescing to an authoritarian form of government that was wildly different from our ideals. I compared that movement to fascism. Was it? Was it fair? Was it right for me to raise that spectre and attach it to people who supported the President?

I'm open-ended on that one. I know I can parse the subtle differences in my prose, but the distorting, polarizing power of an image allows for no such parsing. I know that I used to watch Fox News and feel like a cultural war had been declared on me, and it made me want to fight back with every tool at my disposal.

Tim

I think The "Korea Model" is effective propaganda for its emotional, conspiratorial content ... which is pretty much how you described it. I especially noted the transition from "the sense" to "I concluded." I thought it was very representative of the impulse: "a basic human need to do something -- anything."

I also thought it was a distortion.

A week before The "Korea Model" was posted here, Tony Snow made the comment, explained further at a press conference (edited at E&P).

Maybe it would have been better to include links to the press conference or E&P excerpt with the propaganda?

Tim

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