Bob Herbert, reliably liberal Times columnist, and Ross Douthat, the Times‘ conservative affirmative-action hire, discuss “Support for the Troops” (God bless ’em) and how civilians might do more on their behalf.
“For most Americans, there is nothing in the way of shared wartime sacrifices,” laments Herbert — no new taxes; no draft. This he finds “weird” rather than a great blessing. When he brings this feeling to “college campuses,” he says “the response has been, in essence, a collective shrug.” We’d say he got off light.
Douthat, however, speaks to soldiers rather than college punks, and conveys from them a surprising sentiment: “They’re a little tired of people coming up and thanking them for their service,” says Douthat. “It’s not that they are tired of being thanked, I imagine, it’s just that this greeting has given civilians a false impression that they’re doing something for the troops.” So next time you see a servicemember, drop a dead terrorist at his feet, and say “This one’s on me.” A homeless guy will do in a pinch…
Herbert, ever the do-gooder, wants “civilians to volunteer” to “help returning G.I.’s deal with some of the extremely serious challenges they face when they get back home.” Douthat cautions on that: “Sometimes I feel we treat [soldiers] as victims,” he says. “As a culture we are a lot more comfortable with victims than warriors.” Instead, we should “treat the soldiers and Marines for what they are — warriors.” Douthat regrettably fails to say how we should do this: close down Walter Reed, perhaps, and let injured warriors subsist on the medical plunder of their mates, lest they feel patronized. Or, in extremis, instead of “Taps” and a folded flag, give them Viking funerals.
Finally Douthat allows as how we might “send civilians who are trained to offer civil and community service, to make the soldier’s stay easier and shorter.” But no dice on Herbert’s invocation of WWII, when “the nation took great collective pride in the fight,” Herbert sighs, and had victory gardens, tire drives, and other great team-building exercises. Instead of “national mobilizations,” counters Douthat, we might have a “civilian nation-building academy.” Astonishingly, in Afghanistan “the so-called civilian surge” of local peasantry “has been practically non-existent,” so we should export U.S. citizens, Douthat says, to provide “legal aid, police aid, agricultural aid and so on.” He even gives nervous liberals a break, saying “We don’t have to call it a colonial office,” which might put them in mind of the British Raj.
They basically agree that we should contribute to veterans’ relief groups, come up with pie-in-the-sky ideas, and above all express at every opportunity our respect for the troops (God bless ’em).
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 22, 2009