I love bumper stickers, but many of them require a response. This is #2 in an ongoing bumper-to-bumper "dialogue." (Earlier posts: Stick This! #1)
The idea of using a yellow ribbon originated in the late seventies as a response to the Americans held hostage in Iran. It was a way to let everyone know that we were thinking of them. But even then, it was an awkward choice, since it alluded to Tony Orlando’s song “Tie a Yellow Ribbon”—a song about a convict returning home from prison. The slogan “Support the Troops” came about during the first Gulf War (when we were still “getting over” Vietnam). And it was predicated on the idea that soldiers returning home from Vietnam were spat upon by war protesters; it was a way of admonishing the public not to let it happen this time around. Unfortunately, the spitting incident is at best historically dubious, and at worst an urban legend propagated by war hawks.
But even if the story be true, spitting pales in comparison to the treatment given to returning Vietnam soldiers by the American government: denial of recognition, counseling, and health services. Likewise, the government treats today’s troops with similar disdain: inadequate body armor, mandatory re-enlistment, and inadequate pay and health services. It seems to me that it is not the public that needs admonishing.
The slogan “Support the troops” seems innocuous and inarguable—who wouldn’t support the troops? But that is what gives it power: that it is inarguable. And that is what allows it to be effortlessly conflated with supporting the war—because you cannot separate the doer (the soldier) from the thing being done (soldiering). As such, the slogan has become a political tool used by the administration* to bludgeon anyone who questions the war. If you aren’t supporting the war, you are ipso facto, not supporting the troops. And thus, any critical debate is deflected before it even begins. It’s the rhetorical equivalent of fighting you over there (where war = soldier) so they don’t have to fight you over here (where war = bad idea). And, by the way, you = terrorist in that equation.
Those against the war, as well as people honestly concerned about the troops’ welfare, recognize (at least subconsciously) the troubling nature of the slogan. That’s why they have developed responses (feeble ones, in my opinion) to address their unease at using it. They have added “riders” to the expression like “Support the Troops. End the War” or “Support the Troops: Bring them Home” or, even the less anti-war “Support the Troops: Give them Body Armor.” But each of these attempts fails because it still buys into the original premise: that you cannot be against the war.
My sticker, while politically incorrect, tries to undermine the whole linguistic tactic and expose it as a farce. By using a Mobius strip—a construction that is both literally an endless loop and symbolically the figure for infinity—I hope to convey that the entire argument is un-winnable (much like America’s latest war).
No doubt, I’ll be accused of not caring about the well being of our military personnel. But that’s only because the Republicans actually won the language war.
*To be fair, both Bushs used it, as did Clinton to a lesser extent.