Reising Issues

John Koenig

Sometimes it’s kind of funny how people can take a simple statement and attach an arbitrary connotation to it, altering the meaning and making assumptions about those who may not agree with them. A classic example of the last few years: the phrase “support our troops.”

Literally speaking, the phrase simply means we should appreciate the sacrifice our men and women in the armed forces are making as they carry out their orders. This literal meaning is one that everyone can embrace.

But, as well all know, “support our troops” is a phrase commonly touted by ardent war supporters, and the underlying meaning, of course, is that if you don’t support the war in a political sense, you aren’t supporting the soldiers in a moral sense.

Not everyone thinks this way, but that’s the common political translation of a statement all of us should ideally be able to agree upon.

This dynamic is one that has plagued the debate over the war in Iraq almost since the beginning, and one that resurfaced this month as communities across Wisconsin voiced their opinions on the war in Iraq through advisory referendums.

Even now, as these communities speak out, some people are still missing the point – that people who oppose the war don’t necessarily mean any disrespect to our troops or the critical role they play in protecting our freedoms.

On April 4, 32 Wisconsin communities voted on whether or not to symbolically call for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.

Newspapers across the state, as well as the nation, reported the results the next day – that 24 of the communities, or exactly three-fourths, are home to a majority of voters who want to see American troops leave Iraq, though many of the margins were close.

Some newspapers scrutinized the political demographics of these communities, noting that many of those that voted for the withdrawal of troops actually supported President Bush in 2004 and traditionally side with Republicans. The obvious counterpoint to such communities was Madison, where an anti-war message was no surprise.

Of course the referendums are purely symbolic. They will, at the most, contribute to a grassroots effort to express discontent until someday, if the movement reaches far enough, maybe the right people will listen.

But whatever the effects of the votes are, it’s obvious that the withdrawal of American troops is a move many Wisconsinites support, regardless of traditional political tendencies.

And of course, some people think the referendums mean Wisconsinites don’t support the troops in a basic sense. For example, a soldier and guest columnist to the Wisconsin State Journal said he was embarrassed to be from Wisconsin after the April 4 vote.

The anti-war sentiment these referendums represent, he wrote, reflects poorly on soldiers from Wisconsin. Their abilities and dedication to the war effort are now subject to doubt from other soldiers. The referendums also constitute a symbolic slap in the face to the soldiers who are overseas protecting our rights as Americans.

This argument is superficial at best.

People who oppose the war in Iraq may have a variety of reasons for doing so. Maybe they saw it as unwise and unjustified from the beginning. Maybe they are simply opposed to war on an ideological level. Or maybe they think the best way to support our troops is to bring them home, since they’re fighting a war in a place that had nothing to do with the attacks of 9/11 and, therefore, has nothing to do with the threat terrorism poses to our freedoms as Americans.

But regardless of the reasoning behind the anti-war vote in Wisconsin, it’s unfair to construe its message as disrespectful to the troops. I understand that it must be difficult to fight an unpopular war. While I personally cannot speak to such difficulty and would not pretend to be qualified to do so, I can imagine that it must be detrimental to troop morale and leave lasting effects.

But soldiers could also view the result of the referendums in a different way. All these referendums did was demonstrate that many people want to remove them from a conflict that is widely viewed as futile and unwise. Did any of the referendums include language concerning Afghanistan? No, because it has always been clear that the battle in Afghanistan is a direct reaction to terrorism, not a possible diversion from it.

None of the questions criticized the troops.

None of the questions suggested that what the armed forces are doing for us isn’t noble, or unjustified in cases other than Iraq.

Nobody can tell the American troops how they should feel. But it’s also not fair to attach additional meaning to what was a straightforward statement on the war in Iraq and nothing more.

We’re already at war in two different countries with other potential threats looming. At the very least, we can avoid being at war with one another and keep the discourse on target.

Brian Reisinger is a junior print journalism major and editorial editor of The Spectator. Reising Issues is a weekly column that appears every Thursday.