“Our” Troops vs. Our Eco-System

Mickey Z.


Since I’ve already told you about the importance of repetition, let me recite some numbers I’ve shouted out a few hundred times or so:

  • 80% of the world’s forests are gone
  • 90% of the large fish in the ocean are gone
  • 80% of the planet’s rivers can no longer sustain sustain life
  • 200,000 acres of rain forest are destroyed each day
  • 200 animal and plant species go extinct every 24 hours


If these statistics make you (at least) squirm, you might be interested to know something I’ve also repeated till I’m hoarse: The US Department of Defense (DoD)—the interventionist institution formerly known as the War Department—is the biggest polluter on Planet Earth, for example, releasing more hazardous waste than the five largest US chemical companies combined.


To add insult to injury, the world’s worst polluter—the entity wrecking havoc upon the landbase that makes all life possible—also gobbles up 54% of US taxpayer dollars. But it takes more than obscene amounts of money to keep this criminal enterprise afloat. It also takes more than the volunteers willing to be paid to wage illegal, immoral, and eco-system destroying wars. The DoD will be able to maintain its crime spree as long as most of us continue to unconditionally support (sic) those troops.


As long as the yellow ribbons fly, our shared heritage/future is doomed.


For some, the phrase “support our troops” is merely a euphemism for: support the policies that put the troops there in the first place. For others—sadly, including many activists—the mantra is a safe way to avoid taking an unqualified, uncompromising stand against this war (and all war). Many who identify themselves as “anti-war” still vigorously defend the troops…no questions asked.


The excuse-making typically falls into two broad categories. The first being: “Our troops are just following orders.”


If you activate the google function on your interwebs machines, you’ll easily find many reasons why this concept has no legal basis. For example, Principle IV of Nuremberg Tribunal (1950) states: “The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.”


(Besides this, I hope I don’t have to explain that “only following orders” also has no moral footing.)


The second common excuse: “It’s a poverty draft. The poor have to enlist because they any economic options.” America is certainly an unjust economic society and this would be a compelling argument…if it were true. However, studies found that wartime recruits since 1999 are “on average a bit wealthier, much more likely to have graduated from high school, and more rural than their civilian peers.” It seems youths “from wealthy American ZIP codes are volunteering in ever higher numbers” while “enlistees from the poorest fifth of American neighborhoods fell nearly a full percentage point over the last two years, to 13.7 percent. In 1999, that number was exactly 18 percent.”


Did some of the soldiers enlist primarily for economic reasons? Sure. Did others sign up for a chance to shoot some “ragheads”? Probably. After factoring out these two relatively small groups and rejecting the illegal, immoral, and reactionary “only following orders” defense, I ask this of anti-war, pro-green activists: Exactly how are the men and women who willingly signed up to be paid to wage war immune from any and all scrutiny and/or blame?


They are also not immune from profound irony.


While most American citizens—even if they’re anti-war—are manipulated, harassed, coerced, and guilted into hanging yellow ribbons, from Shays Rebellion in 1787 to Coxey’s Army to the Bonus Army to the Gulf War Syndrome, generation after generation of US military personnel has suffered a distinct lack of support from their own government (and the corporations that own it). “Our troops” are just as controlled and exploited as the US citizens that worship them.


According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the number of suicides among people serving in the armed forces has jumped more than 25% since 2005. In 2010 alone, 454 service members killed themselves in combat zones.


Life doesn’t get easier for those who make it home. About one-third of the adult homeless population is veterans and, according to the VA, is 95% male.


The majority of homeless vets are…


  • single
  • come from urban areas
  • suffer from mental illness, alcohol and/or substance abuse, or co-occurring disorders


People of all ethnicities may sign up to defend (sic) the land of the free (sic) but 56% of all homeless vets are African American or Hispanic (despite only accounting for 12.8 percent and 15.4 percent of the US population respectively).


More VA stats:


  • 107,000 veterans are homeless on any given night
  • Over the course of a year, approximately twice that many experience homelessness
  • Only 8% of the general population can claim veteran status, but nearly 20% of the homeless population is made up of veterans


Another 1.5 million veterans, says the VA, are considered at risk of homelessness due to “poverty and lack of support networks.”


Yes, you read that correctly: “lack of support networks.”


Yellow ribbons, flag-waving, repressive laws, peer pressure, and loud chants of “USA” don’t qualify as support. Rather, this is self-policed obedience manipulated by a corporate-dominated state. As long as so many of us conform, our tax dollars will be stolen to fund endless foreign wars and interventions launched by the most egregious polluter on Planet Earth…and the lost souls volunteering for this global terror campaign will learn too late that no one gives a shit about them.


Support? Our eco-system needs it most. What our citizens could use is some assistance rediscovering the capacities of critical and independent thought.


One more thing: Let’s stop with the “our troops” charade. You and I may foot the bill, but “we” have no say in how that money is spent. If those truly were “my” men and women, I’d bring them right home and put them to work doing something useful…like turning the Long Island Expressway into the world’s longest organic farm.


Mickey Z. is the author of 11 books, most recently the novel Darker Shade of Green. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on an obscure website called Facebook.


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  • http://www.uslaboragainstwar.org//www.newprioritiesnetwork.org Michael Eisenscher

    I can understand the anger, consternation and frustration expressed here. But your critical energy was misdirected. Instead of chastising elements of the antiwar movement and trying to debunk the motivations of those who enlist in the military, your concerns for the planet would have been better served by going after the policymakers who send those troops into battle, the Congress the funds those wars of aggression, the military contractors who feed on the process while contributing their own share of the pollution.

    I also think you oversimplify motivations for enlistment. It’s easy to attack caricatures. For example, there still are young people who enlist out of a misdirected sense of patriotism or because they buy into the “retribution for 9/11” mythology. And, assuming your facts are accurate, while enlistees may not be among the most down-trodden in society, they also enlist because the can’t find work with those high school degrees, or can’t afford to go to college to get a degree for the work they want, or can’t afford health coverage for their young children, or any number of other economic reasons other than abject poverty.

    While those who serve are morally and individually responsible for their own conduct – and should not, as you note, hide behind “orders” for crimes they commit, the real burden rests on the shoulders of those who issue the commands, the policymakers in the administration and their congressional enablers. In a very real sense, the ranks of the military as also victims of the policies they are ordered to implement.

    So, when we in the antiwar movement say we “support our troops”, it is not a statement of support for what they do when serving in the military and it is not to excuse their personal culpability for actions they carry out. It is to recognize that they too are victimized by a system that relies on naked aggression to carry out policies designed to serve a wealthy elite and the corporations that profit from these wars.

    The dramatic and frightening facts you have marshaled need to be more widely known. I’d love to see your essay rewritten to focus on the real criminals, rather than the bit players in this tragic drama.


  • Harry Kershner

    Thanks for saying so well what I’ve been arguing with faux progressives since Viet Nam.

  • Holly

    I agree COMPLETELY. Where are the “Support the eco-system” yellow flag bumper stickers?!

    • Goodins2

      Support the troops they are just following orders. Don’t support the orders they are following or many of the reasons they are there following them. When we leave over there they will return to how they was. Whether it be tomorrow or 20 years from now when we leave. Also 9/11 was a terrible thing but if people would put the concern with the people that are still alive instead of worrying about those who have died. that money spent where those planes crashed would have been better used if spent to keep some one alive instead of on some one who has already died. Remember them 9/11 victims but in time deal with issues at hand first if this had been done we might be in a better place with our country right now.

    • Goodins2

      Support the troops they are just following orders. Don’t support the orders they are following or many of the reasons they are there following them. When we leave over there they will return to how they was. Whether it be tomorrow or 20 years from now when we leave. Also 9/11 was a terrible thing but if people would put the concern with the people that are still alive instead of worrying about those who have died. that money spent where those planes crashed would have been better used if spent to keep some one alive instead of on some one who has already died. Remember them 9/11 victims but in time deal with issues at hand first if this had been done we might be in a better place with our country right now.

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  • http://www.theconsciouscamera.com Snoopy Brown

    Dear Mickey Z,

    I reckon this is a first for me, to write a response to an article, but since reading your article I have felt inclined to do so.

    I think you are, as the corny phrase goes, completely “on the money” with the information and statistics you provide in your article titled “Our” Troops vs. Our Eco-System. What I do however not seem to understand is how then does a person with such an opinion justify living in the states? And then how does one justify living in one of the most influential cosmopolitan cities in the world?

    Of course the Military Industrial Complex rules at the detrimental cost of the environment globally, that is the sensational truth but I think the more subtle reality is that its strength lies in its interdependency with social structures that create massive urban centres, which are the most crucial cogs of the machine that usurps both within and beyond a country’s national boundary.

    Personally I am of the opinion that if urbanites (which I confess I am) are truly concerned for “our” Eco-System, surely we need to reassess our complicity. It is the urbanised lifestyle that we choose to live which appropriates resources, which consumes from the largest industry conglomerates of the world, for which the MIA seeks to perpetuate. It’s no surprise that companies spend more on advertising than they do on production itself so as to feed our, the privileged West’s, desires.

    Your article reminds me of Henry David Thoreau for whom I have great admiration in his writings, such as civil disobedience. I think you should take more inspiration not only from his work but also his lifestyle choices. Maybe the more moral choice is for the intellectuals of this world to leave urban hubs, and all of the material benefits, for the financiers of this world and to encourage others to do the same.

  • mickeyz

    Thanks, everyone…much appreciated. I stand by my position that the common version of “supporting” the troops not only justifies the decidedly un-radical act of volunteering to wage illegal war, it’s also a lie. Yellow ribbons are not support and obviously they are doing little to prevent mass homelessness and suicide.

    And if it seems contradictory that I live in a large city that’s because it is. But I’m born and raised in NYC, live a simple life here, and I feel as if leaving it would be as meaningless a gesture as, say, bringing my own bag to the market. It would make me feel good but do absolutely nothing to address the crisis.

  • Russell Good

    The real criminals can be narrowed down to a few prime instigators of the madness of corporate militarization of the world. I’ll start with Henry Kissinger…..

  • Erikcarlier

    helllo from france, I see the same thing now here with the algerian and black soldier (old now) who never touched the same amount than their french compagnons… sytrange? No always the same story, when army will help haïti, he send a little rice with an helicopter who could send two supermarkets, complete… soldier are stupid except the peace soldier

  • eddy

    It takes more than placing a ribbon on your gas guzzling car to support the troops. I don’t understand why the government has such a problem addressing the issues of PTSD. It’s blatantly obvious killing people has a negative affect on the mind (minus the 2% of those lacking remorse). Even if Obama actually shipped every single soldier home tomorrow, we would have no way to treat all of them.

    Really, in this age of technology, what are we really fighting? Are all the bad Muslims going to storm the beaches? I would much rather my tax dollars be used on education.. cut the military budget.

    Patriotism may work in the mid-west but to a kid growing up on the east-side it’s a means of survival.

    “you clinically crazy if you think you can pay me a figure that could make me slay these innocent babies” ~~Brother Ali

  • Rick Jahnkow

    It’s too bad you chose not to post my earlier comment. There may be a lot of people who will be misled by your citation of the faulty claims about the poverty draft made in the Heritage Foundation report.

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