Supporting The Troops, Redux

tires_and_muralHere we  go again, eh? I ranted away back in January when our school principal decided that Veteran’s Day was a perfect opportunity to indoctrinate our 2nd graders about sacrificing for our freedoms.” And today, evidently spurred on by Memorial Day, a good friend and fellow parent with no doubt the best of intentions sent this around:

I went into school to talk about a collection of items for troops abroad. I also gave each 6th grader a note detailing the items needed. It is a tangible way to honor those protecting and serving our country.

Items most requested (and needed) by deployed troops involved in combat operations:

  • Baby Wipes (preferably unscented, sensitive skin, because they can go over a month without access
    to a shower and have “baby wipe showers” to tide them over
  • Mouth Wash
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Sun Screen
  • Powdered Gatorade Powdered Pedialyte
  • Energy Supplements (i.e. 5 hour energy shots)
  • Healthy Pre-Packaged Snacks (tuna in the shrink wrapped packaging, nuts, beef jerky, power bars)
  • Magazines
  • Music CD’s
  • batteries

I know, it’s all motivated by a sincere desire to help and do the right thing, but there are just so many levels of fail here.

First of all, I’d appreciate an explaination of how exactly our troops are “protecting our country” by blowing up other people’s kids in Afghanistan as they have been for almost ten years. President Bush used Osama and his Saudi 9/11 buddies (not a single one was from Afghanistan) as an excuse to invade Afghanistan in 2001. But then, in 2002, Bush declared about Osama that “I truly am not that concerned about him” and proceeded to switch his attention to his new pet war in Iraq (remind me again how that little adventure protected our country?) And yet, for nine additional years,we’ve been beating about the bush in the hostile boonies of Kandahar pretending to be looking for Osama, while handing over billions of dollars to the very same Pakistani government that turns out to have kept Osama out of harm’s way in Pakistan, where he was found earlier this year by a small, efficient SWAT team, rather than the entire US army.

The current Afghan government was set up by us, their President hand-picked by us, and even if our lack of a clear mission and general ineptitude of leadership should bring the Taliban back in control, they’re not in possession of intercontinental ballistic missiles — so what exactly is the threat to America from a bunch of impoverished Afghan opium farmers and their fundamentalist leaders several thousand miles away?

So, there’s that. But an army that was allowed and able to spend $689 billion in 2010 should be able to afford some hand sanitizer, wouldn’t you think? I mean, it really does beg the question: if the army is not spending their massive share of our tax dollars on basic shit like sun screen for the soldiers serving in scorching Afghanistan and Iraq, then what on earth are they spending it on?

Let’s also not forget that these guys are paid volunteers — if they need batteries and CDs, then they could conceivably spend their salary on that. I’m sure they’re not rolling in it, but it’s not clear to me why their predicament of being stuck on a pointless mission far away from home shouldn’t instead motivate those of us back here to address those lamentable facts (of course, those of us who actively protested the Iraq war back in 2003 were roundly ridiculed by all the hawks who couldn’t wait to get their war on), rather than simply box up some tuna for them and continue to “support the troops” and leave them at the mercy of our evidently inept leadership? 

Why not think outside the box and try a twist on the old bakesale adage: let’s flip the budget for once, and have Uncle Sam pay for the sun screen, the energy blocks and the CDs, and then my philanthropic friends can run a fundraiser for Raytheon’s healthy bottom line and all the cluster bombs and drones with which we’re trying to win the hearts and minds of people in Afghanistan.

No offense to the soldiers who continue to be played for fools and abused shamelessly as pawns in a big power game, but if I decide to set off on camping trip and omit to budget for or pack food and clothes and then find myself begging my fellow campers for the basics, then I could rightfully be considered an idiot who should have stayed at home. And so it is that if the US Army thinks it can send 150,000 men to Afghanistan and then “forget” to budget for and pack sun screen, then how the hell am I supposed to believe that they can do something as complicated as fight a war or win a peace? That’s not the troop’s fault at all, but rather than continue to randomly and charitably fill in the evidently huge gaps in planning for them by shipping baby wipes halfway around the world, wouldn’t it be infinitely more useful to work to get the troops brought home so they can have a nice warm shower for a change? It’s not like they’re accomplishing very much, is it? 

Not to mention that there’s something really impractical and inefficient about sending random stuff from CVS half way around the world at great expense when it could all be purchased cheaper locally. All the troops really would need is the money to buy the stuff, but simply giving them cash might cause us to think twice about the whole scenario. It would seem to be a case of the giver craving the ritual and catharsis of giving more than the recipient actually needs the gift; as my parent friend put it: “a tangible way to honor those protecting and serving our country.” Where is the honor in leaving those poor saps stuck out there with no mission and no exit strategy?

Now, go read this as well as some of the epic comments on that thread.

(Photo is mine, taken in 1994 in Beirut shortly after the end of the Lebanese civil war while on assignment for the International Red Cross).