What happens when you begin to parse, from a biblical Christian context, the bumper-sticker thinking that pleads, “Support our troops”?
John the Baptist tells soldiers to do no violence to anyone. But that is what troops do. Their very job is to enforce by physical means the will of some person or group of persons that claims for itself the right to coerce others. This may be as a group of soldiers who are engaged in military assault, or, as in Palestine, merely an occupation force. Either way, troops are an agency for coercion. But if God makes compliance with His gospel voluntary during this period of the great conflict between selfishness and unselfishness, then there is no place for coercion of others; there is no place for troops.
There is a built-in feature some use when they argue that we should support our troops; they make a separation between the troops as individual soldiers, and the officers or the state. However, Every army consists of those who command and those who obey the commands. In terms of what the army does, there is no difference between grunts and the West-Pointers. Supporting our troops must mean not only supporting the private first class but also the general; not only those who kill on command but those who command to kill.
Those who support the troops also support the rifles, grenades, bunker-buster and hydrogen bombs of the military. The bullets and the guns and the bombs are the very tools used by the troops to murder and to coerce. Support of the troops must mean also supporting the use of these murderous weapons. The man who pulls the trigger or pushes the button is no less culpable than the one who commands, even from the oval office, that the button be pushed or the trigger pulled. To support our troops is to support the weapons used by the troops, is to support the nuclear bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that it was known by its planners would murder women, school-children, and aged men–civilians–and only a very few soldiers.
But then, some want to claim that the army is separate from the state, that the soldiers only do what the civilian leadership of the state tells it to do. And yet, what it all amounts to is a group that enjoys power on the basis of coercion; there is no difference between the political leaders and the military ones. Supporting our troops means supporting the dogface, the general, the representative, senator, and the president. The word “troop” traces back to Middle Latin and “troppus” meaning “flock.” Which reminds us to ask the question, What flock do I belong to as a Christian? Am I part of an earthly flock or a heavenly one? How could I identify with a group whose fundamental task is to murder or coerce–do violence–to others?
The troops are said to be “our” troops. Which calls forth the question, what business does a Christian have murdering or coercing others? Or, what business does he who endorses God’s law–“Thou shalt not steal”–have in aggressing against the property rights of others? Even from the standpoint of the Constitutionalist–the one who believes that the United States Constitution is what amounts to a magic formula that if we all embraced it would prevent all these kinds of issues in terms of government–we have a problem here. For the Constitution does not give authority to raise perpetual standing armies. But this is what we have had since the beginning of World War II. Although the Constitution does not permit it, there has been one for a third of the time the USA has existed. Go checks and balances!
Some of those who serve may be our sons and daughters, but they are not “our” troops. They exist anti-constitutionally. And, blood descendancy does not indicate rational or moral agreement with behavior. If they are serving voluntarily as murderers and coercers, aggressors for pay, they are mercenaries, pure and simple. I do not pay mercenaries to aggress against others. And if they were not voluntary in the present sense, but the state commanded them to serve, still they would be–voluntarily–choosing to obey. We can never be forced, but all of our choices ultimately are voluntary. This is the only way that all of our choices, ultimately, can be moral.
Finally, we do not command them. We have no control over them. The United states public has been opposed to many of the wars that have been fought in its name. More recently, the public is overwhelmingly opposed to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. And yet, troops, bases, military actions continue. They are not ours. These are not our troops.
Finally, we come to the question of support. What does it mean for us to “support” these troops which are not ours? Support boils down to our non-coerced approval of them. If we voluntarily choose to say, I will pay them to aggress against others and I agree with them when they pull the trigger and push the button that kills, we are disagreeing in the most fundamental way with God’s law which says “Thou shalt not kill.” And so, it is human law, ideas, attitude, versus God’s law, ideas, attitude. And I know where I stand.
I do not “support our troops.” They are not ours. I do not have aggressors and I do not support aggressors; it does not matter what emblem they wear or what flag they salute. I cannot serve two masters. The end result of the attempt to serve two masters is always the declaration “We have no King but Caesar.” I have no King but Christ.