Friday, February 03, 2006

What does it mean to "Support the Troops?"

Chris Bray was making fun of Michelle Malkin's call to support the troops, and the more I looked at it the more ticked off I got. Take this description from the non-profit Operation Air Conditioner
Operation AC has raised $2,876,392.00 and has sent 9,400 air conditioners, 14,500 heaters and $1,901,960.35 in Morale, Welfare and Recreation supplies to US troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not too bad for a soldier's mom and his family and YOU our contributors.

Operation AC has suspended sending air conditioners to our troops as of 9/1/05. We send combat boots, socks and wicking t-shirts now.
Logistics and Delivery of Air Conditioners is now a danger to our troops. I can not risk the lives of the civilians delivering the air conditioners nor can I put safety of our troops at risk by allowing the chain of custody of these electronic items to be compromised.
A. The US military can't or won't supply its own soldiers with adequate combat boots? Or socks?
B. The security situation is such that shipping air conditioners is a hazard? What does that mean?

Remember the old bumper sticker? "It will be a great day when schools have all the money they need, and the military has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber." Turns out it's not a great day: they never run out of bombers, but those who serve get turned into charity cases. I don't usually recommend that someone read Michelle Malkin, but look at her list. Bray's right that most of it doesn't really amount to much in the war effort, but I think that list itself is a deep indictment of the state of the US military.


Chris Bray said...

I don't think Operation Airconditisocks is an indictment of the military, really. I have plenty of boots and socks, and every other soldier I know has plenty of boots and socks. If anything, I was a little boggled by the sheer quantity of shit the army threw at me as we prepared to deploy. I lost count of the number and variety of gloves and glove liners I was issued, but I think we're over the half-dozen mark. I came to Kuwait with two massive duffel bags, a rucksack, a foot locker, and a carry-on bag full of stuff -- most of which still sits, unused and unpacked, in its original packaging.

The point for me is that many people who "support our troops" with this kind of effort are not, in fact, primarily motivated by a real concern for those troops. They're engaged in an effort to make themselves feel good: Look how righteous I am! After Hurricane Katrina, aid agencies were overwhelmed by donations of shitty old clothing, which mostly went in the trash; it wasn't needed, but people wanted to feel like they were "helping," and it's easy to part with last year's t-shirts. They didn't seriously inquire about what was needed, which didn't matter. They wanted to feel like they had done something. I'm sure other people can think of still more examples of this dynamic.

I'm not -- AM NOT -- saying that everyone who ships stuff to soldiers, or contributes to veteran's organizations, is self-absorbed or engaged in an act of self-aggrandizement. But some clearly are, and especially the ones who make a spectacle of their "support." (See e.g. Malkin, Michelle.)

People send me things, and I appreciate it very much, and I encourage people to send food and personal hygiene products to soldiers in Iraq.

The question for me has to do with what people tell themselves they are doing when they make those choices, and I love the websites that depict painting your finger purple as a major act of defiance and courage. I'm interested in tone and intent, here, not mere actions.

Ahistoricality said...

I have two or three thoughts in response to this.

Why does the military, apparently, promote and permit this kind of "charity" if it's not terribly necessary? Who's really beneffiting from the money flow?

There's no question that a lot of "charity" is self-directed; I come from a Jewish perspective where the term "charity" itself is a very weak concept because the Hebrew equivalent really means "Justice." (and Bono's speech at the National Prayer Breakfast gets extra points for making that distinction as well). But the whole point of the groups on the list Malkin cited was that these groups are responding to what they feel are identified and consistent needs of US forces; who's identifying the needs and -- again -- who benefits?

My tinfoil's twitching....