About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Support our troops?

I'm getting a bit tired of the “support our troops” litany that Republicans and Democrats keep repeating like a mindless mantra. My personal opinion may be (surprise surprise) a bit more distant from mainstream than even most critics of the war would find comfortable. I actually don't support either the war or the troops. You see, unlike Vietnam, the current US army is made of “volunteers,” i.e. it is actually a mercenary army. Some of these people, no doubt, are there because of patriotism, as misguided as it may be. Others because they like playing with big weapons and feel the adrenalin rush of being a Rambo. Still more, probably, join the army simply because of the bribes the government dangles in front of their eyes, ranging from paid college education to a cool sports watch (yup, you read correctly). Which means that “the troops,” by and large, have actually chosen to be in Iraq – hence, from my perspective – do not in fact deserve my “support” because they are partially responsible for what is going on there. Of course, their level of responsibility doesn't even come close to that of the “brains” behind the war, especially Bush, Cheney, and Rummy; still, remember the famous question of the '60s: what would happen if they declared a war and nobody showed up?

But even someone with more moderate opinions than mine may want to make some not so subtle distinctions when it comes to the facile accusation of “not supporting the troops” which is now, predictably, being hurled at those Democrats (and few Republicans) who are belatedly attempting to curtail Bush's madness by cutting funds to the war effort. These people are, in fact, supporting the troops by attempting to put fewer in arm's way and finally force the White House to really come up with a “new strategy,” as opposed to simply escalating (or “augmenting,” as the ever more Machiavellian Condy Rice insists in calling it) the current, utterly failed, strategy. There is indeed a distinction (with a difference) between not supporting the troops and not supporting the war.

Moreover, what really irks me is the balls that Republican hawks display in accusing the Dems of not supporting the troops, when it was Rumsfeld who sent many fewer troops than necessary into Iraq, because of his delusions of a “leaner, meaner” army whose successes would be based on a sci-fi like “shock and awe” approach. And let's not forget that this was supposed to be a cakewalk where the Iraqis would welcome coalition forces with flower petals in the streets. Even more callously, it was the Rumsfeld-led Pentagon that did not provide sufficient supplies to the soldiers, beginning with armored vehicles that were not armored enough to withstand roadside bombs, and continuing with the lack of personal protection vests that forced some families to raise money to properly equip their sons, just like the medieval crusaders who had to provide for their own weapons to help their kings and popes “liberate” the holy land. Talk about not supporting the troops.


  1. It's amazing how, here, Max's opinion, which is a really moderate opinion, can be considered as an extreme one.

  2. Well yes, it is close to one end of the distribution, as I acknowledge in the body of the post. Then again, sometimes "extreme" opinions do have some good reasons to back them up...

  3. Your post has some excellent points. Here's some additional data:

    The Department of Defense, headquartered in the Pentagon, is one of the most massive organizations on the planet, with net annual operating costs of $635 billion, assets worth $1.3 trillion, liabilities of $1.9 trillion and more that 2.9 million military and civilian personnel as of fiscal year 2005.

    I am a 2 tour Vietnam Veteran who recently retired after 36 years of working in the Defense Industrial Complex on many of the weapons systems being used by our forces as we speak.

    It is difficult to convey the complexity of the way DOD works to someone who has not experienced it. This is a massive machine with so many departments and so much beaurocracy that no president, including Bush totally understands it.

    Presidents, Congressmen, Cabinet Members and Appointees project a knowledgeable demeanor but they are spouting what they are told by career people who never go away and who train their replacements carefully. These are military and civil servants with enormous collective power, armed with the Federal Acquisition Regulation, Defense Industrial Security Manuals, compartmentalized classification structures and "Rice Bowls" which are never mixed.

    Our society has slowly given this power structure its momentum which is constant and extraordinarily tough to bend. The cost to the average American is exhorbitant in terms of real dollars and bad decisions. Every major power structure member in the Pentagon's many Washington Offices and Field locations in the US and Overseas has a counterpart in Defense Industry Corporate America. That collective body has undergone major consolidation in the last 10 years.

    What used to be a broad base of competitive firms is now a few huge monoliths, such as Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and Boeing.

    Government oversight committees are carefully stroked. Sam Nunn and others who were around for years in military and policy oversight roles have been cajoled, given into on occasion but kept in the dark about the real status of things until it is too late to do anything but what the establishment wants. This still continues - with increasing high technology and potential for abuse.

    Please examine the following link to testimony given by Franklin C. Spinney before Congress in 2002. It provides very specific information from a whistle blower who is still blowing his whistle (Look him up in your browser and you get lots of feedback) Frank spent the same amount of time as I did in the Military Industrial Complex (MIC) but in government quarters. His job in government was a similar role to mine in defense companies. Frank's emphasis in this testimony is on the money the machine costs us. It is compelling and it is noteworthy that he was still a staff analyst at the Pentagon when he gave this speech. I still can't figure out how he got his superior's permission to say such blunt things. He was extremely highly respected and is now retired.


    The brick wall I often refer to is the Pentagon's own arrogance. It will implode by it's own volition, go broke, or so drastically let down the American people that it will fall in shambles. Rest assured the day of the implosion is coming. The machine is out of control.

    If you are interested in a view of the inside of the Pentagon procurement process from Vietnam to Iraq please check the posting on this blog entitled, "Odyssey of Armaments"


    On the same subject, you may also be interested in the following sites from the "Project On Government Oversight", observing it's 25th Anniversary and "Defense In the National Interest", insired by Franklin Spinney and contributed to by active/reserve, former, or retired military personnel.



  4. Even if you don't support the 'troops' it is hard not to feel for those personally close to you overseas. Even if they did volunteer I still want them coming back alive.

    You have defined 'support the troops' as support for the entire military machine. When I say support the troops I just want the few people I know to come back. In one piece.

  5. Sork,

    yes, indeed, I too want people to come back in one piece, whether I know them personally or not. But the point of my post was broader, as you can tell.

  6. Personally, I don't understand what it means to "support the troops". Most, I find, who use the phrase haven't sent care packages or done volunteer work. Maybe to them supporting the troops invloves prayer or positive thoughts. Somewhat empty offerings to the wounded or mentally ill.

    Really, the "suppport the troops" phrase is an idealistic political symbol set up to shame others into action. It is not unlike religious folk questioning people's faith or morals. It is a tool of manipulation. And the Democrats are falling for it.

    Example: "You haven't paid the proper respect to Caesar, so you must be a treasonous dog".

    My tax dollars go to the troops, and that's enough for me. Perhaps it is too much, since I never supported this damn war to begin with. It's like a black cloud over the world. And I'm sick of it.

    What I hate is that Bush & pals will just retire unpunished. I say banish them to live in Iraq for the rest of their lives.

  7. "Maxs" opinion is shared by a lot of the world press. In comparison, I don't think his is either extreme or uncommon. It is what it is. Just the drift of the way the world is going.


    No one has to "like" war to understand the reasons we police places in the world where children and women are third and forth class citizens. And there, most everyone but the THREE people at the top, live in terror of the current dictator in charge.

    Are we certain that set of circumstances should be left alone to see how it works itself out?

    In the theoretical, (at the university level) a lot of things appear to make sense that have no place whatsoever in the real world.


  8. Rosecovered glasses said:
    This is a massive machine with so many departments and so much beaurocracy that no president, including Bush totally understands it.

    I would amend that statemen to read "especially Bush".

  9. I can understand where MP is coming from even though I don't totally agree with it.

    I would bet that most of the RA (Regular Army) guys are in the service for good reasons, are patriotic and want to defend this country. I know that's how I felt in my military days (about 13 years worth). That was in the Vietnam era and although I disagreed with that war as much as I do this one, I would have gone had I rec'd orders to do so. (The stupidity of youth)Those orders never came and as the old military line goes, "never, never volunteer!

    The Nat'l Guard Guys have a slightly different take, as they expect their mission to be within the US in the event we were invaded, natural disasters etc. Of course you can't discount the perks that are promised either.

    But Bush has turned the whole thing on it's head - using our military as an belligerent offensive weapon against a nothing (militarily) country, that, although led by and onerous dictator was not a threat to anyone and certainly not the US. (How many more nasty dictators are there out there and are we going to hammer them too? I doubt it - NO OIL) Defeating the Iraqi military was a push over, trying to fix the mess he made has been the disaster. He has USED all of our military very badly. He has, in reality, used the entire country very badly.

    I want to see every man and women come back in one piece regardless of their position on the war. The people I don't give a damn about are the ones who thought up this whole disasterous mess and those who supported them in the beginning and continue to support them.

    One other little piddling point. Does anyone know what a troop is? A troop is a military unit (originally a cavalry unit)generally consisting of two platoons. That is somewhere between 50 and 70 men depending on the mission of the platoons. That means that we should have something like 7,800,000 soldiers in Iraq and that Bushie wants to send 1,290,000 more. Every time I hear the term troop when referring to an individual soldier I wonder just how much of the rest of the speakers information is off base.

  10. Putting part of the blame for the war on the "troops". Your logic never seems to amaze me.

    Good thing you wrote a post on how tired you are of hearing about people supporting the troops. You wanna get that off your chest.

    Republician hawks, he he , is that from your last post? Why didn't you say Democratic doves instead of just democrat?

  11. "But Bush has turned the whole thing on it's head - using our military as an belligerent offensive weapon against a nothing (militarily) country, that, although led by and onerous dictator was not a threat to anyone and certainly not the US."


    many feel tend to feel that yours is an elitist view. When one really see's who is at the forefront of protesting, their reasons just don't add up. (Note the following article after my comments.)

    btw,My natural dad is vet too. Unfortunaely he's been tad mixed up for well over 30 years. (was trapped in an overturned tank with other dead soldiers for several days to a week...and so on.)

    Jan. 30, 2007 11:28 | Updated Jan. 30, 2007 15:55

    Koch's Comments: Celebrity protestors
    By ED KOCH

    The old "celebrity protester" crowd is back. There they were in Washington, on the mall: Jane Fonda, formerly known as "Hanoi Jane," has now become "Baghdad Jane;" Danny Glover, and Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, husband and wife, exhorting the crowd against President Bush and the war in Iraq. The crowd's signs read, "No War Is A Just War." Not even the war against Hitler in World War II? Another sign read, "Bush = Evildoer." Really?

    The president believes, as I do, that the Islamic terrorists want to kill us, and already have at the World Trade Center and elsewhere, and if they are not stopped, they will seek to conquer and threaten the entire world into submission. President Bush, who fights Islamic terrorism, an "evildoer?"

    The crowd was large - in the tens of thousands - and their rhetoric denounced the US. The public officials who were elected opponents of the war, senators and congressmen, did not appear, with the exception of Dennis Kucinich and John Conyers, both of whom addressed the crowd. Kucinich is running again for president, and John Conyers is now Chairman of the Judiciary Committee and threatened impeachment proceedings against Bush when he was the senior ranking Democratic member. He will now have a chance to do that.

    These people and their counterparts do have the capacity to bring down the government and prevent the president from being effective in pursuing the war. They were successful against President Johnson, destroying his reputation and sending him into oblivion. It is not far fetched that they can do the same to the idea and those who believe it that Western civilization is at great risk.

    Pre-WWII in Great Britain, some in British universities - the leaders of the next generation - said they would not serve in the military forces. Many said they were pacifists, others supporters of the apparently invincible Nazis. Even the then-King Edward VIII before he abdicated to marry his love, Wallis Simpson, conveyed by his statements and his Nazi salute caught by a photographer his support for Hitler.

    In America, there was the rise of the America First movement led by the national hero, Charles Lindbergh. Nevertheless, when the chips were down and the Nazis began their conquest of the West, the British stood up and so did the Americans. The French collapsed quickly.

    Will the spirit and willingness to die for the concept of freedom rise again? I don't know, and I worry. We in America are leading la dolce vita. We've never had it so good. Sure, there are plenty of problems, but unemployment is down to 4.5 percent. More than half of America's adults are in the stock market and it is rising. We are a country of wealth and prosperity, even if not fairly distributed. We love life. Our enemies, the Islamic terrorists, love death and martyrdom. Remember what Zarqawi, an al-Qaida leader in Iraq, said, "Killing the infidels is our religion, slaughtering them is our religion, until they convert to Islam or pay us tribute."

    Remember their reward when they carry out that command? They are immediately lifted to heaven at the side of God, and are provided the services of 72 virgins. Can we in the Judeo-Christian Western world compete? Our reward is not so clearly spelled out by our biblical teachings and in such detail. We know there is a heaven and a hell, and heaven is far better.

    Islamic terrorists are willing to wait the years needed to overcome our forces. They know they have the support of those Americans, British, Spaniards and French and others who wish to surrender to the terrorists' threats and get out of Iraq. Because of the threats, some countries have never gone into Iraq."

    cont. here:



  12. Actually, Dennis, the use of "troop" to mean "soldier" dates from at least the Civil War. As Tim Sager of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram says:


    We get the same complaint from time to time.I always send the offended reader the following quotes from Eisenhower and Winfield Scott:

    Eisenhower: “People of Western Europe: A landing was made this morning on the coast of France by troops of the Allied Expeditionary Force. ...”

    “Nothing is easy in war. Mistakes are always paid for in casualties, and troops are quick to sense any blunder made by their commanders.”

    In neither of these examples is Ike referring to units of cavalry commanded by a captain and equivalent to a company of foot or a battery of artillery.

    The usage, of course, predates Eisenhower. It was very common during the American Civil War and in histories of that war written by Union and Confederate veterans. For example, in 1861 Yankee Gen. Winfield Scott famously said of Robert E. Lee that “Colonel Lee would be worth fifty thousand troops to our side."

    Scott was no spring chicken when the Civil War began and was probably as resistant to neologisms as he was to new military tactics.

    People who complain that this is a new usage haven’t been paying close attention to the language for at least 200 years – and probably much longer.

  13. "People who complain that this is a new usage haven’t been paying close attention to the language for at least 200 years – and probably much longer."

    Bad dennis! Not pating attention for 200 years!

  14. "Not pating attention "

    Guess I shouldn't be too quick to criticize.

  15. "Not pating attention "

    "Guess I shouldn't be too quick to criticize."

    and who are you, btw?

    It's just hard to know who one should criticize for criticizing. But, of course, I have had no spell check as of the last week, so I can't really say anything to anyone.

    I mean, I wasn't even sure I could actually spell anymore. ;)


  16. "and who are you, btw? "

    Sorry. Guess I forgot to sign my name.


  17. I don't support the troops and I never have in this particular military action against a non-aggressive target.

    If no one agreed to fight, there would be no war.

    Before someone points out the obvious, yes there are instances where military action is justified. This wasn't one of them and everyone in charge knew it going in.

    Of course, my career (20+ years, ret'd) Army brother rips me when I say things like that.

  18. thanks, John. :)

    I no longer have spell-check because we (I) was not updating virus protection. My hubs usual solution is to wipe everything out and start from (almost) )zero until he figured out where the problem was.

    I think several of my computers had this affliction.

    that'll teach me. ;)

  19. A few years ago around the time that the invasion of Iraq had begun, I met a couple of guys that were in the army. I expressed my gratitude to them for putting their lives on the line for the country, and said I felt like I should be doing something more to support them.

    The soldier I was speaking to said, without hesitation, you support us by being educated ... by speaking out here, by voting.

    He didn't tell me what to say, or who to vote for. Essentially, he told me to speak my conscience, and that act itself was supporting the troops.

    Everyone who defines supporting the troops as acceding to their own opinion is engaging in a form of hubris. It is the hubris of thinking so highly of one's own opinion as to believe that no one can think otherwise and still have noble motivations.

  20. I agree entirely. You cant support the people who willingly fight a war you are against! Ive said this to family and friends so many times, but its apparently a very complicated opinion to hold because people seem to really struggle with it..

    The mercenary factor isnt considered most of the time I think. Noice!

  21. I understand your opinion of the troops but I don't entirely agree with it. I joined the Marine Corps before we invaded Iraq and whether or not you're aware of it, troops are bound to a contract typically ranging from four to six years in length. There is a large number of us troops who do oppose the war but what choice do we have? Do we take the "conscientious objector" route and risk endless unemployment and constant insults upon discharge? I spent a whole year in Iraq and my motivation during the course of it was serving next to other Marines in my unit. I would've felt morally unfulfilled, or selfish, had I stayed back here in the U.S. while they all went forward and endured something they too don't agree with. Also, all conscientious objectors make their claim on religious grounds (to my knowledge). Well I'm an atheist so if I did choose to not go to Iraq, it would be much more difficult to successfully get discharged by claiming to be a conscientious objector.

    On a side note, I'm listening to your 2002 debate with Kent Hovind on the Infidel Guy's radio show (posted over at Richard Dawkins' website) and found my way over here. I don't know how you kept the discussion civil...it's hard for me to listen to that guy. Good job. I'm especially annoyed by his constant labeling of evolution being a religion.

  22. Massimo,

    you made my teeny weeny rant about humanism disappear.
    what's up with that?


  23. I don't remember deleting any rant, I delete only things that are pointlessly offensive, a waste of space because completely off topic (and I mean, completely!) or advertisements.

  24. Massimo
    I see.

    The lack of support for military personal has nothing whatsoever to do with atheist beliefs? I think it may for some people. We either wage war for freedom in what are (somewhat) Christian nations because we believe that God is sovereign, or He is not and Man is.

    I am afraid that it is one of those "either or" situations.


  25. milkywayinhabitant,

    thanks for your thoughtful post. When I was in Italy I did indeed take the conscientious objector route. Of course, there was no war at that time, but I did have to do 20 months (instead of 12) of civil duty, at the same (essentially non-exhistent) pay of a soldier, but with no shelter and food provided by the government.

    But I do see your points, of course, as I hope you see mine.

    As for the Hovind debate, I'm proud of having managed to keep it civil. Have you heard he went to prison for tax evasion? I guess his version of Christian morality doesn't extend to giving to Caesar what is of Caesar... :)

  26. I agree with milkywayinhabitant. I joined before the current administration. I was not opposed to some of the deployments I was sent on. However, just like milkywayinhabitant, I felt I had no power to decline orders to go to the Middle East for what I felt was an unjust war. This absolutely enraged me. The other comment I have is about incentives to join the military. Although it is correct that the mlitary uses incentives,this argument underestimates the draw of health insurance,a fare wage, and a "way out" for a young person with a family in states and areas with few chances for a decent life. One is often willing to give up their freedom for a chronically sick spouse or child. It doesn't sound much like "volunteering" in those cases, does it?

  27. The voice of today's America:
    "Not only do I not support them, I do actually wish them harm--and their families too! When they return, NO SERVICES. Why should we waste our precious tax dollars on spent meat when they could go to worthwhile endeavors-- such as CEO compensation"

  28. Support Our Troops- If you don't want to stand behind our deployed soldiers then you are more then welcome to stand in front of them.

  29. It's hard to imagine a more idiotic comment than this one.

  30. you are all ungratfull for what the troops do for you. its because of their sacrifice that you have the ability to write youre stupid ideas on a web page. its people like you that arnt worth fighting for. what we are doing is a great thing in Iraq. i would gladly fight for our country and support our president and for that matter i will support any president we elect, republican or not.

  31. After reading these postings, it seems that the Americans of 2007-08 are more supportive of the terrorists than they are of our own troops.


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