I was running errands today and a middle-age looking woman approached me to give me a “complimentary yellow ribbon to show my support of our troops on Veterans’ Day.” She was upset and confused when I turned her down and noticing the car I climbed into was covered in bumper stickers – many speaking out against war and violence – she yelled out (not unkindly) that even if I “don’t support the war, I can still support the troops.”
The thing is I don’t want a yellow ribbon.
First, there is the reality that I do not really know the origin, but by at least one account I am aware of it is pretty awful. I can’t recall where I heard it, maybe Democracy Now (?), or maybe at an Indigenous people’s day event somewhere along the line (?)… Anyhow, by this account the tradition of those yellow ribbons comes from the yellow tie that was part of a soldier’s uniform. The cavalry that would go out to kill Indians, before they left, they would take that yellow tie off, tie it in their wife or their girlfriend’s hair, and say, “You wear this until I come back safely from killing Indians.” Like I said, don’t know if it’s true… but it’s hardly unbelievable. So, ‘till I know it’s for 100% it is not true I will not wear/display a yellow ribbon.
Then there is the whole slogan itself. How do you “support the troops” without supporting the war? Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not against the individual soldier. I agree that individuals need our support. But is supporting individual soldiers the same as “supporting the troops”? As Noam Chomsky points out:
“[…] the point of public relations slogans like “Support Our Troops” is that they don’t mean anything […] that’s the whole point of good propaganda. You want to create a slogan that nobody is gonna be against and I suppose everybody will be for, because nobody knows what it means, because it doesn’t mean anything. But its crucial value is that it diverts your attention from a question that does mean something, do you support our policy? And that’s the one you’re not allowed to talk about.”
And how do we as a nation show our support? I don’t think a yellow ribbon or empty slogans are going to do it. I would argue that as a nation – we don’t “support our troops” – and we certainly don’t support individuals (or their families) when they return.
Think about the following:
· Veterans make up one in four homeless people in the United States, though they are only 11 percent of the general adult population.
· 1.8 million Vets are without health insurance…
· Combat stress, exhaustion, and bearing witness to the horrors of war contribute to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a serious set of symptoms that can lead to depression, illness, violent behavior, and even suicide. . PTSD sometimes doesn’t become apparent for months or even years after a war, but by then the military will often tell soldiers they have missed the deadlines to get the mental health help they need.
· Soldiers health is adversely effected by depleted uranium, Lariam, insufficient body armor and infectious diseases etc. and often are at the mercy of a Veterans Administration is far too under-funded to fully deal of need
And who are “the troops” anyway? With this country’s economic draft lower income people are pushed into the military in order to earn a living, try to learn a trade or get money for their education. Not surprisingly, the “economic draft” primarily targets youth of color from low-income areas, both urban and rural. Military recruiters heavily target working classes in Black, Latino, Native American, Asian, Arab, and Pacific Islander communities.
An economic draft, combined with the racism and classism, in this county ensure poor people and people of color die in war disproportionately. During Operation Desert Storm over 50% of the front-line troops were people of color, largely Latino. As Arundhati Roy said so well “America’s “volunteer” army in fact depends on a poverty draft of poor whites, blacks, Latinos and Asians looking for a way to earn a living and get an education.”
So, if you really want to “support the troops” – if you want to support the individual men and women who make up the armed forces- skip the yellow ribbon.
Instead, work to end the current wars and stop future wars before they start. Work for universal health care – including good mental health care. Dismantle racism. Fight poverty. Support unarmed civilian protection and third party nonviolent intervention as a realistic alternative to armed military intervention. And support those soldiers who are on the front lines – resisting this war.
Check out these groups who are doing just that:
GI Rights Hotline, www.girightshotline.org