The Defense Department's "Defend America" Web site reads, "Dear member of
the U.S. military: Thank you for defending our freedom." Fill in your name
and hometown and click to join the more than 2 million who have sent the
The sentiment seems hard to argue with. No matter what one thinks of the
coming war against Iraq, can't we all send such a message to those who
Not if we want to be honest about U.S. war plans, for those troops won't
be defending our freedom but defending America's control over the
strategically crucial energy resources of the Middle East. They will be
in the service of the empire, fighting a war for the power and profits
of the few, not freedom for the many.
To some, that statement may seem disrespectful. But resistance to the
coming war against Iraq doesn't signal a lack of respect for those who
do the fighting. I never have served in the military, but my family and
friends have, and I have empathy for people on the front lines who face
If I truly am to respect them – as human beings and as fellow citizens –
I should be willing to state clearly my objections to this war.
That requires distinguishing between the rhetoric and the reality of
U.S. foreign and military policy. Every great power claims noble motives
for its wars, but such claims usually cover an uglier reality, and we
are no different.
For most of the post-World War II era, the United States' use of force
against weaker nations was justified as necessary to stop Soviet plans
for world conquest. The Soviet regime was authoritarian, brutal and
interventionist in its own sphere, and it eventually acquired the
capacity to destroy us with nuclear weapons.
But the claim that the Soviets were a global military threat to our
existence also was a political weapon to frighten Americans into
endorsing wars to suppress independent development in the Third World
and accepting a permanent wartime economy.
With the Soviet Union gone, American planners needed a new justification
for the military machine. International terrorism may prove more durable
a rationale, for organizations such as al-Qaeda are a real threat, and
we have a right to expect our government to take measures to protect us.
But the question is: Which measures are most effective?
U.S. intelligence officials have acknowledged that the U.S. attack on
Afghanistan did little to reduce the threat and may have complicated
counterterrorism efforts. But the war was effective at justifying a
continuing U.S. military presence in Central Asia. A war against Iraq,
being marketed as part of the war on terrorism, is even more obviously
about U.S. control of the region's oil.
So, we have to separate what may motivate people in the armed forces
from the real role of the U.S. military.
I have no doubt that many of the people who serve believe they are
fighting for freedom, an honorable goal we should respect. But they are
doing that for a government with a different objective – to shore up
U.S. power and guarantee the profits of an elite – that we shouldn't
There is no disrespect in urging fellow citizens who have joined the
military to ask, "What am I really fighting for?" and, "Who really
benefits from the risks I take?"
If we civilians truly care about the troops – as well as the innocent
people of Iraq who will die in a war – we should make it clear to
Washington that we won't support wars for power and instead demand a
sane foreign policy that seeks real freedom and justice, not dominance
My message to the troops would be: "Thank you for being willing to
defend freedom, but please join the resistance to this unjust war."
That is a message of support for the troops and a plea for solidarity
among ordinary people who want to build a better world, not serve the
It is a reminder that, as John McCutcheon put it so eloquently in song:
"The ones who call the shots won't be among the dead and lame/And on
each end of the rifle we're the same."
Robert Jensen is the author of Writing Dissent: Taking Radical
Ideas From the Margins to the Mainstream and a journalism professor
at the University of Texas at Austin.
©2002 Belo Interactive