Op Ed

Support Our Troops! Well, the Penis-Having Ones

Godwin’s Law says that the longer an argument continues, the higher the likelihood that a Hitler analogy will be made, and we’ve all seen it happen. Hitler analogies shut down arguments. Because how can you argue? Argue against Hitler sucking, and you are a horrible person.

For every Hitler comment, there is an equal and opposite “support the troops” comment. “My husband/brother/father/uncle/cousin is in Afghanistan” has become code for “Shut up, you don’t know what you are talking about, and I am morally superior.”

Bring this up in an argument and you automatically win.

Argue against somebody’s military connection, and you are an anti-American asshole who is probably a terrorist at heart. A soldier in Afghanistan shot and killed 16 unarmed civilians, and articles run about finding sympathy for the murderer. Can you imagine if somebody in America murdered 16 innocent people, many of them children? How many articles would be written that sympathize with the shooter? Oh wait, that’s happened. Remember Jeffrey Dahmer? There is no doubt that mental illness played a role in his 17 killings, but he is unequivocally seen as a monster. Robert Bales, on the other hand, is a U.S. soldier. People talk of the shootings as a tragedy, and even as he is in jail, his lawyer says, “If I was in a life threatening situation, I would want him next to me.” You see? He’s a soldier. Soldiers are irreproachable.

Some comments on the Huffington Post article about Bales:

Robert Bales
This man is horrible! But don't judge him. He's a soldier, damnit.
Robert Bales Comment

Even as I type this, I feel the need to explain myself. I am not anti-soldier! I support our troops! I considered joining the Army for about 15 seconds at the end of high school, as a way to pay for college, and 15 seconds was all it took for me to be sure that this was not a sacrifice I was capable of making. I am a coward, and I have nothing but respect and admiration for those who are willing to put themselves at risk for the good of the country. Even when I disagree with tactics of the military, I am completely supportive and appreciative of those who put their lives on the line for the defense of the country. I SUPPORT OUR TROOPS, just like everybody else.

There is a caveat, though, in that “just like everybody else” statement. “Support our troops” only seems to pertain to one sex. Want to guess which one? That’s right, it’s the men. In the abstract, men and women are all lumped under one label. “Troops,” after all, is not gender specific. The ribbon magnets that people put on their cars do not specify male or female. What, then, is the problem?

The military itself.

Everybody supports the troops. To say otherwise is socially unacceptable to the point where criticism is not allowed. But the female troops themselves are being sabotaged from within, and people are willing to turn a blind eye to it because, well, who cares about women anyway?

Rape and sexual assault are rampant in the military: twice as many veterans report having been assaulted as civilians, and that number is likely to be much higher, as something like 80-90% of assaults go unreported. And why would you report? According to a new report, “CNN has interviewed women in all branches of the armed forces, including the Coast Guard, who tell stories that follow a similar pattern – a sexual assault, a command dismissive of the allegations and a psychiatric discharge.” It is tough to report sexual assault in the civilian world; this evidence is suggesting that even if women do report assault, they could end up with a psychiatric discharge. You were assaulted? Poor baby. You are probably making it up because you’re crazy, and also, you’re fired, and your record will forever report that you are mentally unstable.

It’s the ultimate in gaslighting, and it is abhorrent.

And because any sort of criticism of the military is seen as anti-American, this can’t change. Looking at the comments on the CNN page makes it clear that for some people, supporting our troops means supporting the men no matter what, even if it means kicking the women out. Oh, there is a problem with rapists? The obvious answer is that women should not be allowed in the military.

Rape comment
i.e., it is their fault for being there in the first place.
Rape comment
See, the women are crazy. Because they were raped. And you can't trust crazy people, especially around rapists. Damaged goods, get them away from society.
Rape comment
I mean, rape is wrong, but the only way to stop rapists is to protect them from women. It is the only way.

Anybody who reads this bullshit and says that we don’t live in a rape culture, or that feminism is pointless because we have reached equality, or that women should just stop getting their panties in a bunch is being blind on purpose. The U.S. military is fucking over women, systematically, and nobody can call them out about it because, you know, patriotism.

The only way we can change this type of thing is by being willing to talk about it, being willing to look at it critically. I support our troops. I support the men, and women, who sacrifice for me. The only way to support our troops is to be willing to admit that the military isn’t perfect, isn’t even close, and things must change so that all of our troops can be supported from those that they count on the most.

“I support the troops” is a worthy slogan, and it’s a worthy cause. But the word “troop” isn’t gender-specific, and if people are honestly supporting the troops, they should be supporting all of the troops equally. The military isn’t going to get better as long as people are willing to pretend “troops” is a masculine noun. Supporting the troops means when there is an assault from one to another, support goes to the victim and against the attacker, regardless of gender. Otherwise, the bumper stickers should say “I support our male troops,” because, even though that is despicable, at least it’s more reflective of reality.

By Susan

I am old and wise. Perhaps more old than wise, but once you're old, you don't give a shit about details anymore.

18 replies on “Support Our Troops! Well, the Penis-Having Ones”

The fact that you had to dedicate a whole paragraph explaining how you do support the troops made me sad. These are people who happened to choose a certain job. Some go into the military got noble reasons, some don’t.

Some of them are good people, some of them aren’t. Wearing a uniform doesn’t change that. It really bothers me that in this country you can’t criticize the military, or individual soldiers, without being treated like you are some kind of terrorist Nazi puppy-killer who hates America and lentils.

I was living in a red state when we first invaded Iraq. I remember people in my dorm in college putting yellow ribbons in their windows in support. Since I am a heathen socialist hippie (who happened to live in a high floor facing a road), I made a giant red peace sign for my window. My views were regularly waved off and dismissed based on the fact that I was born above the Mason-Dixon line, so it’s not like I had anything to lose.

I find it interesting that “support the troops” means “Don’t criticize any military action.”  It has NOTHING to do with supporting the troops.  If it did, there would be better resources for the troops and the families of the troops and 1 out of every 4 homeless persons would not be a veteran.  If there was actual support for the troops, it’s possible that Bales would not have shot innocent people.  But supporting the troops is about keeping your mouth shut and wearing red, white, and blue, not actually helping the people who might very well need it most.  And isn’t that the worst kind of slacktivism?

Definitely – its also really important to look at how the military picks up more folks for the troops, which is usually by recruiting 18- 19 year olds at high schools in poverty laden areas, promising college tuition and experience that will help them get a job. One of Elena Kagen’s most controversial decisions as a dean was banishing federal army recruiters from her campus, granted she was in charge of a relatively privileged school, but most community colleges or high schools welcome recruiters with open arms because it does offer an opportunity. If anything, its predatory and takes advantage of a rock and a hard place.

Also, if people are so GD gung ho about supporting the troops, how come they get stinky sour the second that money is set aside for job programs for people who have returned or vet hospitals? Vet hospitals are closing left and right now and are one of the most underfunded services in the states (though Michelle Obama has really taken it up as a cause and begun to get more money going into rehabilitation centers).

I just feel like “support the troops” is convenient when we talk about big words like “terrorism” and “war”, but certainly not when it shifts to actual, needed support of the troops.

I wonder sometimes if the Support our Troops mentality of present day is a direct response to how veterans were received directly following the Vietnam War.  It’s like the pendulum swung so far from one extreme where troops were vilified upon returning home to the other extreme where troops (and I agree that means male servicemen in this context) are untouchable and infallible superheroes.  I too find myself justifying my criticisms with a disclaimer that I do support the troops – some of my best friends are troops . . . that doesn’t really work, does it?

I’m an Air Force veteran. I pray/think good thoughts for the men and women in the military as often as possible (and, when I have the financial means, find deployed friends and friends-of-friends and send things like munchies and tampons, try to help local military families with babysitting/tutoring, stuff like that). There are some amazing people who chose to enlist in the military, whether it was the best or only economic choice (or chance to someday go to college) or they feel strongly about serving the country.

There are also some serious assholes in the military, who do things like murder children and rape women and hurt others because they want to, and who use the military’s purpose as some way to justify that behavior. And the military’s purpose, overall, can be very unsettling.

I don’t believe in playing “Support The Troops”, because the idea is often used to excuse behavior like Robert Bales’, or the military’s habit of giving women who report a rape a personality disorder diagnosis. Handwaving murder and rape in the name of Supporting The Troops is bullshit.

I appreciate this and want to say you are definitely not alone in this! I have so many conflicted feelings that I typically think I can never really talk to anyone about them. On the one hand, I have family who were officers and are very pro-military. No issue there. On the other, I’ve had relationships with servicemen (active and nonactive) who were horrible and abusive towards me and it felt like they got rewards for it that helped enable them to abuse me and left me with no recourse. On a totally different appendage, I find it horrible that we put these people on a pedestal while other people who put their lives on the line and make sacrifices for us don’t get nearly the praise nor support that they do. On some other body part, I’ve known some stellar people in the service who do great work, but again, I’ve known some who were complete asses (male and female).

It’s almost as if they’re human or something.

On a somewhat-related note, a female servicewoman is missing in N.C. If it was a guy, it’d be all about him being in the troops and hoo-ah and so on, but because it’s a woman, it’s all ‘why was she wearing a tank top, she must be a whore!’ and ‘she went out while her husband was out of town, she must be a whore!’ and ‘she was at a bar, whore!’ – it’s always a woman’s fault it seems, and they cannot leave the house without their husbands, go out by themselves, or dress in immodest ways and we ‘support our troops’ to go over and fight against people who…say the same thing.

“It’s almost as if they’re human or something.”

Bingo. And when humans are in environments that encourage/reward behavior X, that behavior will increase. A given individual is not scum because they have chosen to serve their country. But there are some long-standing, deeply engrained cultural problems with the military, especially this “thou shalt never criticize” attitude. And that causes so, so much harm.

This was an interesting read for the different topics you covered. Can’t say I agree with all your points but I’m trying to keep in mind that the US and UK military are different, both in how they operate but also in how they’re perceived. And also, I’ll admit, because my brother is in the army, and has been in Afghanistan. Again, an interesting read.


In the US, it’s a lot like what Susan said; it’s very much a “if you criticize America, you’re anti-American” sort of deal. Since there’s a social streak of trying to declare the US to be The Best Country Ever (TM), there’s some things that you are expected to always defend (capitalism, troops, democracy, bootstraps, many structures of privilege, etc.), and there’s some things that you are expected to always demonize (communism, people who fight against the US, socialism, anything that isn’t in “US interests”).

Now, I don’t mean to imply this is constant everywhere, and there are always strong social commentaries of these topics, as well as subcultures with different ideas. But the thing about these topics is that if you do not meet your expectations, there’s a social thread that will try to label you “anti-American.”

I’m sure there’s a lot more social commentary on the US that could be done on this topic when it comes to “support the troops!” especially related to topics like nationalism, gun culture, colonialism in the modern age, etc.

Apologies for taking so long to reply to this – I wanted to spend more than a rushed two minutes on this. My disagreements lie in how soldiers who commit crimes are perceived. Not that their crimes should be excused, not at all, but that the pressures and stress that soldiers are put under are grossly underestimated and mistreated. Psychiatric help in the armed forces are sorely lacking, and when people have been in extraordinary circumstances like the theatre of war, there is going to be an extraordinary impact.

This point of view is, perhaps, influenced by the fact that the UK and US share very different armed forces. Certainly, the US appears to be about breaking people down in order to satisfactorily mould them into soldiers, where as the UK armed forces are about building on people. And – again, this is simply my perception – soldiers in the US appear to be treated like idols, it’s very odd, where as here soldiers are treated (usually) as heroes. I’m not sure if that difference makes sense – so apologies for not articulating this as well as I could have.

I said this in my original reply, but I feel it is worth reiterating: I’m coming at this from a UK, rather than US perspective. Here, if a soldier commits a crime, he is treated like everyone else. Certainly there is rape in the armed forces here, (indeed, a female soldier committed suicide recently as a result of being raped) but there isn’t the same – from what I’m aware of – rape culture compared to what appears to be present in the US military. There are huge issues here (Deepcut is the usual one looked at), certainly, but soldiers don’t have a get out of jail card because they are in the armed forces. Just as there are cases of civilian rapists (and criminals in general) being jailed, there are also cases of soldiers being court martialled and jailed.

Certainly, I don’t disagree with the anger that may be felt at female soldiers being discharged because of an automatic psychiatric diagnosis upon reporting rape. If there is a genuine reason for discharge due to psychiatric reasons, then sure, but to give an automatic diagnosis? It’s quite bizarre.

Again, apologies for taking so long to reply!

No, you are absolutely correct about the pressures of war creating circumstances that make a crime committed by a soldier different than one committed by a civilian.  At the same time, the knee-jerk reaction by so many is to SUPPORT THE TROOPS at all costs.

I think the real way to write this article should have been to look at the treatment of male soldiers and female soldiers in the same situation, rather than comparing male soldiers who commit crimes and the way society sees them, and then talking about rape.  Hmm.  Reorganization is needed.

This is one of those things I’ve avoided ever mentioning in the presence of certain family members, for precisely the reason you’ve identified. The “you’re not one of us; ergo you must STFU” mentality is worse in this context than in the parenting one. Which is saying something.

It’s a very disastrous that I think has amplified since the Bush/ Cheney years – while it certainly isnt the mccarthyism of the red scare days in the US, it is instead the vilification of anyone who expresses criticism of the military and the systematic problems, as well as the downright justification of anti-islam in the name of “fighting terrorism”.

America is such a young country and I think for all the years we have been here, we have maybe been in some type of war all but about 20 years. I think that plays so much into the exceptionalism complex we have and why there is such a lean towards being the “top military power” and having a fervent popular appeal with the military.


Leave a Reply