The Minute Book
Sunday, 5 July 2015

If You Don't Stand Behind Our Troops
Topic: Commentary

If You Don't Stand Behind Our Troops…

The messaging of the image above, whether in a facebook feed, on a bumper sticker, or plastered somewhere else has always raised my hackles. It's in keeping with the rhetoric that comes of veteran outrage syndrome and the trend that continues to propagate the same sense of entitlement is well described in this article; The Death of the Quiet Professional.

"If you don't stand behind our troops,
feel free to stand in front of them!"

Really? If you've ever spouted this, did you actually pause and think about what it's actually saying? No, I didn't think so?

I'm sure some soldiers and veterans, and supporters of same, picture this (if they picture it at all) in the context of an armed force in all-round protection. Soldiers in a tight circle (proportional to the force size, of course, for the pedants out there), all facing outwards, sheltering a select deserving few inside, and everything outside defined as potential targets, where everything in front of the muzzle is the enemy. But life's never really that simple, is it?

First off, it's not the soldier's choice who might be under his (yes, or her) protection. That decision falls to the political masters, the ones who decided if we'd be at war, and with whom. And the soldier certainly doesn't get to decide that someone no longer deserves protection. The mere thought of that undermines the whole context of being a soldier in a democratic society. Soldiers can't claim to be defending the rights and freedoms of our country's populace, if they don't accept and allow them having an contrary or adversarial opinion. That, quite specifically, is one of those rights and freedoms.

"Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: (b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication… – Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom

That freedom includes being able to disagree with how the elected officials running the country decide to employ the military. even if they, directly or indirectly, benefit from the military's existence in some other way. Those citizens are still entitled to express their opinion. We should be glad that they are, for they maintain that right even as some soldiers evolve from ardent supporters of their employer, the Government, to ardent veteran critics of every thing that same Government does in support (or perceived lack thereof) of soldiers and veterans.

Soldiers protect, both persons and materiel, and defend the rights and freedoms of their society, in ways chosen by the Government (that's part of the deal, the Government chooses the missions), and they protect individuals, very directly, when they happen to be inside one of those protective circles soldiers form on operations. No serving soldier on an operational mission would turn to a sheltered civilian (of any status) and declare that they no longer deserved protection. No soldier who dutifully embraces their responsibilities would cast a civilian from that protective circle.

"If you don't stand behind our troops,
feel free to stand in front of them!"

You cannot hide behind suggested contexts and declare that the lack of a physical intent to cast someone out excuses the thought. The declaration itself offers to withdraw the protection that it is a duty of a serving soldier to provide. The soldier does not have the authority to withdraw it, because that authority has not, and never will be, delegated. To make such an declaration doesn't display a strong validation of one's support of soldiers and mission, it antagonistically shows a careless disregard for duty and loyalty to the nation's rights and freedoms. It doesn't reinforce the support it attempts to proclaim, it undermines it.

"If you don't stand behind our troops,
feel free to stand in front of them!"

It's not simply a cute rhetorical quotation, it's an offer of violence, directly or indirectly. Parsed by the military mind, it says to the receivers that if they doesn't wholly support the soldier and his purpose (or support the soldier separate from mission, as some angry veterans might allow), than the receiver is welcome to walk into the danger zone. The citizen who does not agree with the Government's use of the military does not deserve to be sent into the crossfire. That citizen's opinions are just as valuable, and just as worthy to be expressed, in a democratic society. If anything, their right to express that opinion deserves to be openly recognized, and protected, from those who might try to muzzle it.

Soldiers like the analogy of sheep, sheepdogs, and wolves. Soldiers are the sheepdogs, protecting the populace (the sheep) from the bad guys (the wolves). The sheep can rest peacefully, because the sheepdogs remain awake, alert, and ready to counter the wolves. But the analogy always leaves out one important player … the shepherd … the Government. The sheepdog obeys the shepherd, and no true sheepdog abandons a sheep to the wolves, no matter how recalcitrant that sheep might be. It's not the sheepdog's choice, to do so is counter to the sheepdog's duty.

"If you don't stand behind our troops,
feel free to stand in front of them!"

It's time for this facile expression to die and disappear. Those who express it are certainly entitled to their opinion, but perhaps they need to think a little harder about that opinion first and how it can be interpreted. It's not just a reprehensible expression, it's directly in contradiction to the soldier's duty.

In its place, I offer this quote, which thoughtful soldiers have seldom hesitated to express:

"I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it." – Voltaire

Pro Patria

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Updated: Monday, 6 July 2015 8:42 PM EDT

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