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September 14, 2007

Comments

"... between their loved homes, and the war's desolation."

We were a better country when we appreciated that line of the anthem more.

G'Kar: I couldn't agree more about the need to support the troops by asking hard questions ahead of time -- and, I would add, by electing leaders with good judgment, who will not ask them to risk their lives needlessly or unwisely.

I'd also add something I've said before: part of supporting the troops, I think, is making sure they have the best training they can not just in how to conduct various kinds of military maneuvers, but in how to conduct them as honorably as the situation allows. War by its nature tempts people to do bad things. You can't (for instance) see your friends die, or risk death day in and day out, without that temptation, I think. If we don't train soldiers to resist that temptation, we make it that much more likely that when they return, some of them will have things on their conscience that they do not need to have, and should not have been made to bear.

If we pretend that soldiers are not ordinary human beings who are doing a hard and dangerous job for which we should all be grateful, but automatically saints and heros, it will be that much easier for us to neglect the kinds of training they need precisely because they are ordinary people in an awful situation. And that's not supporting them at all.

G'Kar, great post.

Hilzoy, great comment.

But there is even basic stuff that didn't happen:

One of the repeated complaints I've seen from American soldiers coming back from Iraq was that they were not told that a gesture (hand up, palm out) which in the US would mean clearly "Stop, wait where you are", in Iraq, means "Come here!" One of the basic things (they said) they felt they should have known - you can imagine the horrible and lethal consequences of the US soldiers not knowing - and it wasn't done.

Iirc the head signs for yes and no are also the opposite or near enough to it to be confused/mistaken. But hey, the one with the gun is the frame of reference. The Iraqis had a decade to learn the "proper" signs.

There is a fundamnetal problem, when being a soldier (and especially a high officer) by itself carries prestige and political clout (as opposite to just respect for doing a dangerous job). Call me again when it becomes unpatriotic America-hating to criticize the political judgement of firefighters or just to "not support our firemen" (in that case certain candidates could kiss their chances for high office goodbye).

Every once in a while I read a post here and I say to myself, "I wish this was on the op-ed page of every paper in the country."

This is one of those.

Thanks, G'Kar.

I can't resist pointing out that Tennyson (or perhaps his publisher, according to a bit of googling) used feral apostrophes there, so perhaps Obama's "gonna'" staffer was inspired by the poet to sprinkle in a few where they don't belong. Apologies for lowering the level of the thread.

It would probably be rude of me to point out that the phrase "support the troops" was manufactured by the GOP as a euphemism for "support the war", so it doesn't mean what it seems to mean.

It would probably be rude of me to point out that the phrase "support the troops" was manufactured by the GOP as a euphemism for "support the war", so it doesn't mean what it seems to mean.

So in the same spirit may I suggest that reclaiming the phrase for good grammar, good sense and the good of the troops may be worthwhile.

it doesn't mean what it seems to mean.

I disagree. To most people who use the phrase, it means precisely what it says. Simply because war proponents are using it as a bludgeon to push their preferred policies doesn't mean that other people don't see the phrase precisely as it is written/spoken.

Damn, typepad just ate my comment. To reconstruct:

Great post. A really powerful form of bad argument is the kind that takes a real, legitimate, emotion or grievance and applies it out of its proper context. "Support the troops" is like that: there's a real, justified feeling among people I've known in the military or emotionally affiliated with it that a big part of the country is unfamiliar with and alienated from them, and that this turns into some kinds of ill-treatment. Indifference or hostility to Vietnam vets when they came home is the same sort of thing; I think it's been unfairly blamed on the anti-war movement specifically, but the indifference was real. So, there's a real conversation to be had about 'supporting the troops' on the level Kipling was literally talking about in 'Tommy' -- interpersonal, individual decent treatment and care; VA funding and the like.

When 'support the troops', on the other hand, is used as an argument for particular political or strategic goals because 'the troops' support them, on the other hand, it's pernicious nonsense, but powerful pernicious nonsense because of the emotions attached to the other sense of the phrase; self-justification from those who take the rhetorical position of being affiliated with the 'troops', and a certain amount of guilt from those who don't, but nonetheless recognize the degree to which those in the military are often ill-treated by the system. In any case, great post, and it's especially good to hear it from someone in your position.

To most people who use the phrase, it means precisely what it says. Simply because war proponents are using it as a bludgeon to push their preferred policies doesn't mean that other people don't see the phrase precisely as it is written/spoken.

Our experiences are doubtless different, but I quite literally had never heard that phrase on the national (or even local) stage until it was being as a bludgeon. That, as LB points out, it was a coopting of a legitimate sentiment doesn't, to me, mitigate the dishonesty and blatant militarism underlying its creation.

Plus, "support the troops" invariably ends up meaning something insultingly shallow, like buying a yellow ribbon or some crap like that. Woo-f***ing-hoo. To pick an example not really at random, for all his doofery Stephen Colbert and his "Wriststrong bracelet" has done far more to support the troops than quite literally anyone I've seen using the phrase IRL -- and pretty much anyone I've seen use it online, either.

Great post. I think Anarch's right about this: "support the troops" invariably ends up meaning something insultingly shallow. But, like LB, I think there's a motivation behind the idea that is both decent and good for the country. I do wish the military was better integrated in society broadly. (Which also repeats LB, I think.)

JM: Every once in a while I read a post here and I say to myself, "I wish this was on the op-ed page of every paper in the country."

This is one of those.

Seconded.

Anarch: Our experiences are doubtless different, but I quite literally had never heard that phrase on the national (or even local) stage until it was being as a bludgeon.

Ditto. There are doubtlessly those who have sincerely taken it to heart, since words and phrases don't exist in stasis. But AFAIK, the phrase was originally concocted to be, as Anarch put it, a 'bludgeon', an example of euphemism as weaponry and intended to beat down legitimate criticism.

That's the primary context I've seen it used in, both in the US and here in Canada (Afghanistan quagmire represent!)

However, this argument isn't really related to the meat of your post. The main point--"If there is one trope I would love to see staked in the wake of this war, it would be that of 'supporting the troops,' a phrase that makes me cringe whenever I hear it. If there is a less appropriate phrase in the English language, I don't believe I'm familiar with [it]"--gets an unqualified 'hear hear' from matttbastard.

I really have no problwm with the phrase "support the troops" per se. Far worse is the negation of that phrase, the saying of someone that "h/she doesn't support the troops."

Everbody has their own definition of what support the troops means, and trying to accuse someone of not doiung so because they don't match your definition is where the real problem is.

BTW, although I agree that the troops primary duty is to support the country, supporting the troops still has meaning.

My question:

Why do Democrats have so much difficulty with (and/or are scared of) the issue of supporting the troops?

"Support the troops" is a transparent synonym for "support the war."

Obviously supporting the troops in the context of a foolish, pointless war means getting them home safe.

Surely Democrats can find ways to inoculate themselves from claims that they don't support the troops. For god's sake, even the most rabid anti-war person is not suggesting that we abandon them and have them buy their own ticket home.

There are lots of ways to explain that really supporting the troops means bringing them home. Otherwise you are just support GW Bush.

So why do the Democrats have such a difficult time? (Or am I wrong from the get-go on this point?)

i once read that one of the first things adolph hitler did on gaining power was to alter the traditional werhmacht oath, making the soldiers swear fealty not to germany, but to the fuhrer. few people attached that much significance to it until it was too late. certainly, cheney and rove did not miss the point. early on, they made the test of a good american not allegiance to what this nation stands for, but allegiance to their own peculiar delusions. that was what they called, "supporting the troops." to this day an incredible number of americans have not appreciated what happened, and again, it is too late.

I don't think that Democrats in general have difficulty with the use of the phrase "Support the troops" per se. I think that Democrats in general have difficulty with intellectual dishonesty and that the phrase "support the troops" is as intellectually dishonest as "family values", "pro-life" or any of the other catch phrases pushed by the right to make themsleves feel morally superior and to distort the discussion.

It hard to push back against that sort of smugness. Perhaps the most effective way is to adopt the phrase oneself while giving it a more intellectually honest meaning. For example, to rightists "pro-life" means nothing more than opposition to abortion. What's pro life about that? Very little. I'm pro-life because I am opposed to unnecessary pre-emptive wars and I'm prepared to face up to the hard truths and difficult changes necessary to cope with global warming. To the right "pro-family" means a commitment to retain the tradional bigotry toward gay people. I'm pro-family because I believe that government should serve the common good and take real actions that will actually help families--such as Obama's or Edwards's health care proposals.

So those who choke on "support the troops" are likely choking on the righhtwing dishonesty of it. A more effective pushback tactic is to use the phhrase but redefine it.

However none of that takes away from G'Kar's point that soldiers, while important, are not necessarily more worthy of support because of their jobs that any other Ammerican who contributes to our society by teaching school or caring for the elderly or raising their kids.

K'Gar's post is, as others have said, worth every word.

So why do the Democrats have such a difficult time?

well, it's hard to argue logic against someone willing to attack you with emotional illogic.

but, at its core, this is just tribal partisan politics. it's rhetoric designed to insult the enemy and rally your allies. facts aren't as important as telling the meta-story: Dems Are Evil. nobody could ever prove to the NRO gang that the Dems really do support the troops, just like nobody can ever prove to wingnuts

maybe, maybe not. but that's what i wanted to type just now.

So why do the Democrats have such a difficult time?

well, it's hard to argue logic against someone willing to attack you with emotional illogic.

but, at its core, this is just tribal partisan politics. it's rhetoric designed to insult the enemy and rally your allies. facts aren't as important as telling the meta-story: Dems Are Evil. nobody could ever prove to the NRO gang that the Dems really do support the troops, just like nobody can ever prove to wingnuts

maybe, maybe not. but that's what i wanted to type just now.

So why do the Democrats have such a difficult time?

well, it's hard to argue logic against someone willing to attack you with emotional illogic.

but, at its core, this is just tribal partisan politics. it's rhetoric designed to insult the enemy and rally your allies. facts aren't as important as telling the meta-story: Dems Are Evil. nobody could ever prove to the NRO gang that the Dems really do support the troops, just like nobody can ever prove to wingnuts

maybe, maybe not. but that's what i wanted to type just now.

So why do the Democrats have such a difficult time?

well, it's hard to argue logic against someone willing to attack you with emotional illogic.

but, at its core, this is just tribal partisan politics. it's rhetoric designed to insult the enemy and rally your allies. facts aren't as important as telling the meta-story: Dems Are Evil. nobody could ever prove to the NRO gang that the Dems really do support the troops, just like nobody can ever prove to wingnuts

maybe, maybe not. but that's what i wanted to type just now.

holy crap! sorry about that.

Because the culture-war issues are really powerful. There's this imaginary picture of the 'troops' as uniformly salt-of-the-earth-pickup-driving-middle-American-raised-churchgoing-whatever-types (trying here to point at, rather than endorse, a stereotype) uniformly scorned and held in contempt by latte-drinking-liberal-urbanites like me. One political point of accusing people of 'not supporting the troops' is to accuse them of being from a different class (not just economic, but regional and so forth) from the troops, and therefore presumptively hostile and contemptuous toward them. And on some level it's a fair cop -- the latte-drinking-liberal-urbanites, to the extent they're a defineable class, are probably underrepresented in the military.

So on an emotional level, accusations of 'not supporting the troops' directed at someone like me are, from the point of view of someone who identifies with 'the troops' powerful and hard to refute. Things like calling my congressman about VA funding, or raising money for phone cards for wounded soldiers, don't count because they're only thoughts and actions. If you're not socioeconomically/regional-background/political-affiliation a member of the group that's entitled to identify with 'the troops', 'supporting' them just makes you a phony, worse than if you openly expressed your concealed contempt.

This obviously isn't what everyone who uses the phrase thinks, and it's probably a distorted picture of what anyone is thinking -- this is hard stuff to talk about explicitly. But I think something like this is part of what underlies the attacks on people for not 'supporting the troops' and part of what makes it a damaging attack and one that's hard to refute.

LB: I always enjoy, and learn from, your comments, but the comments you've made on this thread are even more insightful than usual, which is saying a lot.

Earlier this week, I was at the bank, and I used my VA ID card as a second form of photo ID. The teller saw that I was a veteran and went all 'Thank you for your service ma'am' at me. It wasn't the first time that's happened, and every time it does it makes me slightly uncomfortable. The people who say 'thank you' obviously mean well, but it really seems to me that often their emotions don't extend beyond a mild feel-good fuzziness.

I would much rather that no one ever told me 'thank you,' if it meant that the country would take responsibility for what we ask our soldiers to do. Sending someone to kill and die in a foreign country for no good reason, knowing that the war you're starting is completely unnecessary, is a huge betrayal. It trivializes the lives of soldiers, makes them pawns in a game of money and power that benefits no one but the powerful.

When I enlisted, I assumed that my oath to protect the Constitution was matched by my leaders' obligation to be responsible with my life. Truly 'supporting the troops,' in my view, would be something along the lines of requiring America's leaders to honor that contract.

"i once read that one of the first things adolph hitler did on gaining power was to alter the traditional werhmacht oath"

Depends on your definition of "gaining power." He was sworn in as Chancellor on January 30, 1933. He didn't become Führer until August, 1934.

Cites are better.

"few people attached that much significance to it until it was too late."

No, that's absolute nonsense; it got world attention, and headlines in more or less every newspaper in the world. It's not actually hard to look this stuff up, if you're unfamiliar with it.

"certainly, cheney and rove did not miss the point. early on, they made the test of a good american not allegiance to what this nation stands for, but allegiance to their own peculiar delusions."

Your point would be perfectly valid, absent the attempted analogy. Unfortunately, you've linked a perfectly good point to an analogy of which the necessary equivalent would be Bush and Rove having passed a Constitutional change making Bush also the absolute dictator of the Congress, and then passing laws requiring all U.S. military and civil service personnel to swear a personal oath of loyalty to the person of G. W. Bush and his new official combined office of Leader.

As it turns out, this didn't happen, and comparing what Bush and Rove did do to such actual events makes the claim look unnecessarily ludicrous. It's sufficient to point out that they've encouraged highly dangerous cultural and political trends, without claiming that it's the direct equivalent of having made Bush legally Führer.

One might instead simply point out, as we constantly do around here, the dangers and wrongs of Bush claiming unlimited powers for the "unitary Presidency," the right to torture, the right to arbitrarily arrest and imprison, and so on. That's really quite bad enough.

And understatement is always more powerful than overstatement, which simply undermines one's point.

I think LB has nailed it.


I will add just one point: the culture war issues resonate here because there is a grain of truth to them. The troops are disproportionately drawn from the south and they are disproportionally drawn from rural areas and they are disproportionally conservative and they are disproportionally republican.


Those a real phenomona, and to the extent that American politics is just a thin veneer over tribalism, detatched from issues and analysis, all of us blue staters sitting in our liberal urban enclaves must hate the troops because we're from a different tribe.

wonkie: "K'Gar's post"

That's G'Kar's Bizarro nemesis, of course. From Nran.

cleek:

So why do the Democrats have such a difficult time? well, it's hard to argue logic against someone willing to attack you with emotional illogic.
I've not noticed a lack of Democrats willing to make emotionally illogical attacks, actually.

So I'm doubtful that use of such tactics explains much by itself.

What percentage of people are willing to listen to, and are interested in, which sorts of emotional illogic, and why, may have more to do with it, perhaps.

Ah, and I see LB's typically astute 01:56 PM starts to get at one such sort of emotional illogic.

Thanks, hilzoy, Turbulence, Gary. I should say that if what I said has anything to it, it came out of a lot of conversations on this issue with a very good friend who'd had a career in the military. I don't know if he'd agree with me, but the things he's said gave me a lot to think about.

I've not noticed a lack of Democrats willing to make emotionally illogical attacks, actually.

i'm 116% sure i wasn't implying that Dems don't do it too. obviously, emotional and illogical arguments work, whoever is making them, if they resonate with something the audience thinks it knows already.

i'm saying "support the troops", like "the NYT is hopelessly liberal" and "Dems hate America", work because the resonate with The Base's idea that Dems are evil. that the accusations aren't 100% factual is irrelevant, since they aren't being used as logical arguments - they're simply rhetorical devices to shore up the loyalists while insulting the enemy.

i suppose "Bush has shredded the Constitution" is one lefty example; lefties know what's being referred to, and probably agree with the sentiment behind the words even if they disagree with the hyperbole: Bush is doing some very dangerous things to our traditions of privacy, due process and separation of powers.

Very good post, and excellent comments as well.

Even more pernicious than the dog-whistle attempt at class consciousness (as Lizardbreath noted) is the assumption which has been voiced recently that we must continue the Iraq War to allow the troops to finish their mission, regardless of whether the mission serves our national interest. This subverts the entire concept of civilian control of the military, something ingrained in our culture from the founders.

"Your point would be perfectly valid, absent the attempted analogy."

A more apt analogy, if I may suggest, might be President John Adams' actions in passing the Alien and Sedition Acts, as another example of dangerous Presidential over-reach into overly-totalitarian claims and acts. Another, lesser, example would be Woodrow Wilson's Sedition Act, the Palmer Raids, mass deportations, etc.

To be sure, these aren't at all direct parallels to recent events, either, but they're more akin than Bush-to-Hitler is.

Tayi: "When I enlisted, I assumed that my oath to protect the Constitution was matched by my leaders' obligation to be responsible with my life."

I'm highly reluctant to say this, for lack of desire to be perceived as making any sort of implicit criticism, which wouldn't be remotely my point, but I can't help but have the thought occur to me that even faint familiarity with American history, from the Revolutionary War, and the difficulties in funding the trrops, through the irresponsble war-mongering, and imperialistic aims in Canada, of 1812, through the naked imperialism of the Mexican-American War, through the horrendous slaughter due to broken and stupid politics, and incompetent generalship, of the Civil War, through the various Latin American incursions, and the renewed 20th Century invasion of Mexico, through the Bonus March, and MacArthur's attack on the Marchers, through MacArthur's absolute certainty that China wouldn't cross the Yalu in force, through the entire Vietnam War, through Agent Orange, through Gulf War Syndrome, Reagan's stationing of troops in Beirut to be blown up by the hundreds, and that's just hitting absolute highlights, that just a touch of familiarity with any of this might cause a bit of doubt to enter one's mind about that idea.

Not to say there aren't also plenty of examples of American leaders, both military and civilian, having been responsible with the lives of the troops. I'm just saying that it's not, historically, been something to be reliably counted on.

cleek:

i'm saying "support the troops", like "the NYT is hopelessly liberal" and "Dems hate America", work because the resonate with The Base's idea that Dems are evil. that the accusations aren't 100% factual is irrelevant, since they aren't being used as logical arguments - they're simply rhetorical devices to shore up the loyalists while insulting the enemy.
Sure.
[...] i suppose "Bush has shredded the Constitution" is one lefty example
Or, you know, equating Bush and Hitler. Not to underrate killing however many Iraqis, and Coalition soldiers, and the like, for evil, but it's still not quite literally in Hitler (or Stalin or Mao or Pol Pot) territory.

Correction that fell out of my previous comment when backed up once: "any sort of implicit criticism" should be "any sort of implicit personal criticism." There were others, but they were trivially for clarity.

I wasn't clear when I wrote: "Why do Democrats have so much difficulty with (and/or are scared of) the issue of supporting the troops?"

I should have written that question in terms of being scared of attacks by Republicans claiming that Democrats don't support the troops. It still seems to me like a fairly easy claim to thwart. on many grounds. But that fear seems to be a factor in the inaction of Congressional Democrats.

Honestly, I think it's the same answer. I'm not sure the fear is justified, and I'm sure the inaction isn't justified by the fear -- at some point the Congressional Democrats have to do the right thing regardless of what happens to them for it. But I think they're rightly afraid that Republicans will be able to portray them as not 'supporting the troops' in any political conflict over the use of the military, because Republicans have a huge advantage in claiming cultural affiliation with the troops. And given that huge advantage, if, say, Democrats cut off funding for the war (which they had the power to do by failing to pass a spending appropriation that funded it), and bad things happened to soldiers as a result (say, if the Administration tried to keep the war going with insufficient funding), Democrats fear that they would be blamed regardless of whether that blaming would be reasonable.

Another way to put it is that because of the cultural affiliation, Democrats fear that the Administration can hold the military hostage -- anything bad that happens to the military can be presented as the Democrats' fault, regardless of whether it's directly attributable to the Administration's actions or not, because the Administration culturally 'supports the troops', and Congressional Democrats don't. And so an Administration-engineered military disaster would be likely to hurt Democrats more than Republicans at the next election.

They should suck it up and defund the war anyway -- fear of suffering in the next election isn't any excuse for not doing their jobs. But the fear is, I think, a reasonable one.

What the hell is a "troop"? In my youth, television taught me that "F Troop" was a unit of about twenty guys. Now, it appears that a "troop" is nothing more than what we used to call a "soldier". I suppose one reason for the current usage is a sort of political correctness: as I understand it, Marines hate to be called soldiers, for instance. Can't go around hurting the tender feelings of Marines, don't you know. Hence the more-inclusive "troops".

But the more important reason is a different kind of political correctness: you have to sanitize war, if you're going to market it. Soldiers bleed; "troops" merely "take casualties". Soldiers just want to survive; "troops" want to "win". Soldiers belong to their families; "troops" belong to the "commander in chief". One suspects that "troops" is one of Frank Luntz's "words that work".

-- TP

Gary, in my defense, when I enlisted I was all of 17. Also, the ideal of officers and commanders who use the military in accordance with their oath to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, may be hopelessly idealistic. But I guarantee you, the military is full of people who are hopelessly idealistic, who believe in this creed to the point that they are willing to kill and die for it.

Maybe the view that military force has legitimate and illegitimate uses, and has been used for both many times in the past, but *should* only be used legitimately is hopelessly romantic. Nevertheless, I would prefer that 'supporting the troops' took the form of a good faith effort to ensure that soldiers' honor and lives aren't wasted on illegitimate efforts. What I was trying to say wasn't that I thought politicians could be counted on to live up to their oaths; I was trying to say that the American people ought to *force* them to do so, if they're interested in 'supporting the troops.' Perhaps I didn't articulate this very clearly; I'm not very articulate.

"Troops" is plural, but it doesn't necessarily imply the existence of a singular trooper. A "troop" is generically a group of soldiers, or just people, but has no more specific meaning nowadays than that, and thus is largely archaic as a specific military usage.

It's not just Marines who aren't "soldiers," though; there are plenty of "dirt sailors," and numerous men and women who serve with the rank of Airman, in Iraq, and even some Coast Guard personnel.

They really can't refer to anyone not specifically in the Army as a "soldier," so "troops" really is the only generic term.

The actual official military language went stupid after Schoomaker started trying to insist that "Soldier" must always be capitalized (following the equally absurd mid-Nineties dictate that "Sailor" must always be capitalized).

[...] Soldiers bleed; "troops" merely "take casualties". Soldiers just want to survive; "troops" want to "win". Soldiers belong to their families; "troops" belong to the "commander in chief".
For whatever little it's worth, I've never noticed even the faintest tendency for anyone to make these distinctions in usage. Is that just me?

Tayi: for what it's worth, I sometimes say 'thank you for your service', and even though that's something I generally say only to strangers (to my friends, my expressions of gratitude are more individually tailored), I generally try to have a fairly clear idea of what kinds of things I might be thanking them for. And my point, besides the obvious one, is that it matters to me that people know that even random strangers in a supermarket somewhere really do appreciate what they're doing, and the sacrifices it entails. I don't think they wouldn't do it otherwise, but (as I just said in my new post) I think it must just make things harder if one thinks: honestly, civilians just don't give a damn. And that view is not going to survive if I have anything to do with it, because it's not true. So it matters to me to say that, even though I know that there's no way to explain why, and certainly no way to do so that wouldn't involve a gratuitous imposition on someone who probably has better things to do.

"Gary, in my defense, when I enlisted I was all of 17."

Gets 'em every time. (Not literally; but going back to prehistoric times.)

"But I guarantee you, the military is full of people who are hopelessly idealistic, who believe in this creed to the point that they are willing to kill and die for it."

Yes, of course. My point, which I don't believe you're disagreeing with, was simply that confusing ideals and reality can lead to disappointment.

It's not to say I think either should be ignored.

That politicians should do as well as possible, and that we, the people, should exert considerable energy to endeavor to see that they do act as responsibly as possible, not just to the military, but to all the citizenry, and the world, is, of course, something most of us heartily desire.

But the actual history of soldiers being screwed by their government, one way or another, is both ancient, and lengthier than the list of times the grunt was treated fairly, and paid-off well. Even in America, WWII, and the various GI Bills were abberational. (Our earlier history is replete with draft riots, unnecessary slaughters, promised-and-unpaid bonuses, and the like, and post-WWII wasn't all a bowl of salad, either; particularly in the Vietnam era.)

But the only way to deal with this at present and in future is the usual one: turn out the rascals doing an irresponsible job.

Gary, the whole strategery of subliminable messaging is that the audience should _not_ notice the implications it is swallowing. I cannot prove that the words "soldiers" and "troops" conjure up different associations in most people's minds, but I do suggest that "support the soldiers" just would not work as a slogan the way "support the troops" does. Too many people would notice the underlying illogic, just due to changing that one word.

-- TP

...but I do suggest that "support the soldiers" just would not work as a slogan the way "support the troops" does.
No, it wouldn't.
Too many people would notice the underlying illogic, just due to changing that one word.
I'm missing what's inherently more "logical" about "support the troops" than "support the soldiers."

"Subliminal" messages in advertising don't work, by the way. Did we just talk about this recently here?

In any case, you're not even talking about so-called "subliminal" messages at all, but about assocations and connotations, which are entirely different.

But since you bring it up, if there were some reason to single out soldiers, such as to, say, exhort people to "support the soldiers in their campaign against trench feet," people would say that. Nothing "illogical" about it.

But there's no reason to single out soldiers, so they say "support the troops." It's no more or less logical than "support the soldiers." Switching nouns doesn't change any "logic" here that I see. If there's an actual "logical" difference, please do outline it; it's not as if I don't miss things. But if it exists, I assume you can explain precisely what the "logical" distinction is.

One thing I've never seen a politician do -- of any party -- is to try to get above the rhetoric and raise consciousness by simultaneously explaining and thus attacking the opposition's rhetoric.

Maybe they try and I just haven't noticed. But it seems like the way you counter dishonest rhetoric (i.e. what most Republican candidates do these days) is to get outside the context which Republicans create. Explain (and therefore diminish) why the Republicans raise the idea of "not supporting the troops."

Bill Clinton could do it, I am sure, and maybe that's his role in this campaign: to explain the practical politics, about which he is of course a master. I'd like to hear Bill Clinton on TV discussing this very issue and by get outside the context which Republicans create, creating a new and more sophisticated context.

Just to make sure I am clear, here's what I mean:

Republican candidate says to Democrat candidate "You don't support the troops."
The Democrat doesn't merely respond by saying "Of course I do!" but he then explains in some depth to whomever is listening what the Republican is trying to do in terms rhetoric and practical politics thus getting outside the context.

I think that gets tried (that is, the Democrat tries to explain that rhetoric is deceptive), and the counterattack is "The Democrat thinks you're stupid, that you're just voting Republican because you don't know enough to see through me tricking you. Are you going to put up with him calling you stupid?" Think What's the Matter With Kansas? and the reactions to it.

"Yes, I support our brave soldiers. I voted for a well-deserved pay raise for them but the GOP blocked it. I voted to get them the training they need before they go into battle, but Bush decided they were needed too quickly to allow them that training. I voted to get them sufficient time to recover out of the battle zone before they must go back, but the GOP blocked that too. I voted for measurable benchmarks for the iraqi government, to check whether our sacrifices are actually being used wisely. But the GOP chose to put aside those benchmarks and continue despite the fact of no progress.

"I ask you, notice whether my opponent supports the soldiers."

But of course, every Democrat who's up for re-election will be facing a nonincumbent who can say whatever he wants, with no history to define him.

Gary, let's synchronize our terms. "Support the troops" as an exhortation is neither logical nor illogical. As used by modern-day jingos, it has been a call to send soldiers off to be shot at. What's potentially illogical is the almost-explicit implication that soldiers _want_ to be sent off to be shot at. Forgive me for using "subliminal" to describe this sort of messaging, but really "containing an almost-explicit implication" is too much typing to convey the same idea.

Very literal-minded people might think that when a civilian says "soldiers" he means to distinguish members of the US Army from marines, airmen, and sailors. But of course the important distinction is between civilians and "members of the armed services". Again, it saves typing to settle on a pithier term. Depending on what associations one wishes to set up, the prefered term will be "troops" in some cases and "soldiers" in others.

For instance, I suspect that the very same people who "support the troops" would be loath to say "three troops deserted today" if they had to report that three Marines just went AWOL.

-- TP

"Yes, I support our brave soldiers."

Why do you hate our brave Marines, Navy, and Air Force?

[...] For instance, I suspect that the very same people who "support the troops" would be loath to say "three troops deserted today" if they had to report that three Marines just went AWOL.
This, in fact, has nothing whatever to do with whether "troops" or "soldiers" is "pithier."

In English, we don't refer to a person as a "troop." An individual is not a "troop" and a "troop" is not an individual. Referring to multiple interations of a plural noun does not, as it happens, turn that noun singular. At least, referring to three individuals as "three troops" simply isn't grammatical in English, as it violates plural/singular agreement; it violates the plural meaning of "troops."

(Conceivably one might say "three troopers deserted today," but probably only if you were in a British Commonwealth regiment; in the U.S., maybe if you were Airborne. Again, has absolutely nothing whatever to do with being "pithier," nor, I think, with any intentional campaign of language choice.)

Even people vague on the plural/singular distinction often avoid messing it up, purely on instinct, just as most people make most grammatical and punctuational choices by instinct, rather than confident knowledge.

People are similarly less likely to say "I met a troop the other day, and she seemed quite nice"; this is for reasons of familiarity of usage, and the identical violation of singular/plural agreement, not because "soldier" is "pithier" than "troop" (it isn't), and not, I daresay, because of some difference in "implication" between "soldiers" and "troops."

"Very literal-minded people might think that when a civilian says 'soldiers' he means to distinguish members of the US Army from marines, airmen, and sailors."

Or anyone who ever speaks to, or has spoken to, an actual member of the military might also think that.

Particularly if they've ever known someone in the Marines, the Air Force, or the Navy, or the Coast Guard, let alone had a family member in one of the services.

This is actually rather more significant than the easily dismissable "[v]ery literal-minded people" looking askance at such a usage.

Neither have you provided the slightest evidence that there's any distinction in common "associations" (or connotations) between the words "soldiers" and "troops," outside your own head. Perhaps there is, but I've never noticed any such thing whatever, so I do invite you to provide some evidence. Any at all.

"Yes, I support our brave soldiers."

Why do you hate our brave Marines, Navy, and Air Force?

"Why do you quibble about the wording, do you make a fuss every time Bush steps on his tongue?

"Yes, I support our soldiers and marines, and also the sailors and airmen and coast guard who've been sucked in as ground soldiers because we don't have enough trained soldiers for the mission.

"And we owe it to the troops to give them a mission they can accomplish, not one that's guaranteed to fail. In our occupation of iraq the soldiers are trying to act like policemen, when they mostly don't know the language or the culture or the local laws. And it's almost like every call is a domestic violence case -- our soldiers are supposed to get between people who're trying to kill each other and make them stop. In a permanent occupation. Our people deserve better! If we can't give them a war they can win, give them peace for awhile and some training time."

Neither have you provided the slightest evidence that there's any distinction in common "associations" (or connotations) between the words "soldiers" and "troops," outside your own head.

I don't have evidence, but it's in my head too. When I hear "soldiers" I think about the individuals. When I hear "troops" I think of the mass. I don't know why.

I suppose ideally we'd hire a bunch of people and measure their ekg and gsr and such and try out different speeches and *see* which words get a better response. I don't have the money to spare for it just now, though I'm sure somebody does.

Only they aren't sharing.

When I hear "soldiers" I think about the individuals. When I hear "troops" I think of the mass. I don't know why.
Because "soldiers" are individuals, and the word "soldier" is singular, and the word "troops," which refers to many soldiers, is plural.

I thought I just explained this simple point at over-elaborate length.

Frank Luntz did not, in fact, invent the plural/singular distinction.

"I don't know why."

Because that's how English is structured.

Otherwise, focus groups have been used elaborately in political campaigns since at least the Eisenhower administration, yes; not much need to guess at any details about this.

'Because "soldiers" are individuals, and the word "soldier" is singular, and the word "troops," which refers to many soldiers, is plural.'


I'd prefer to say: "Soldier" refers to one soldier, but "troop" refers to a set of soldiers, incidentally more than one. "Troop" is more abstract than "soldiers". One can e.g. easily refer to one's family as a troop using the sense "a unit [of soldiers]".

Inside my own head, as Gary might put it, I cringe when I hear a newscaster, pundit, or politician utter a phrase like "Six American troops were killed today in Baghdad". I cringe for the obvious reason that I am hearing news of six individual lives snuffed out, but also for the linguistic reason Gary makes so much of: each of the six "troops" was, singular, a ... what? Gary can insist all he likes that the correct usage would be "Four soldiers and two marines were killed today in Baghdad", but if so his argument is not with _me_.

Even worse, linguistically, is the construction "Bush announced the withdrawal of 5000 US forces by Christmas". If the English language had a governing body, that sentence would be a capital crime. Alas, whether Gary likes it or not, whether I like it or not, whether our "forces" like it or not, English as she is spoke is basically common property, to be used and abused by anybody with an ax (or is it axe?) to grind.

The choice of one word over another nearly synonymous one is the essence of condensed forms of communication like jokes, poetry, and bumper-sticker slogans. The difference between the right word and its second cousin, Mark Twain observed, is the difference between the lightning and the lightning-bug. What determines which word is "right" is not a matter of dictionary definitions. It is a matter of what point you wish to make, or to conceal.

"Support the troops" is an attempt to conceal the point that soldiers do not long to be shot at. It is not an attempt to _make_ the point that marines, sailors, and airmen, as well as soldiers, _do_.

-- TP

Does anybody here know, when the term "our (brave) boys" came out of use when referring to the members of the armed forces? Has it something to do with women appearing in the frontline too? "Our brave boys and girls" simply sounds ridiculous, at least to me.

"Troops" as faceless masses (as opposed to the individual soldier) may have been influenced by the Latin use. Troops were "copia" (literally: stores, items in stock), miles (soldier)were people serving in the militia. "Soldier" originally implied a person fighting for money, in other words a mercenary. From that point of view Hannibal commanded soldiers, while Rome relied on militiamen. In German it is still a Soldat (soldier) receiving Sold (pay) on the one side and the Söldner (mercenary) on the other while Miliz/Milizionär are rarely used at all. I think even Bürgerwehr* (comparable to Home Guard) is more common a word.

Wehr = fight/defense by or against, cf. Feuerwehr(firefighters), Bundeswehr(German army)

Neither have you provided the slightest evidence that there's any distinction in common "associations" (or connotations) between the words "soldiers" and "troops," outside your own head. Perhaps there is, but I've never noticed any such thing whatever, so I do invite you to provide some evidence.

Because "soldiers" are individuals, and the word "soldier" is singular, and the word "troops," which refers to many soldiers, is plural.

I thought I just explained this simple point at over-elaborate length.

Disassociate much, Gary?

In German it is still a Soldat (soldier) receiving Sold (pay) on the one side and the Söldner (mercenary) on the other while Miliz/Milizionär are rarely used at all.

In Dutch we have a 'soldaat'who becomes part of 'our boys and girls' more often referred to as the 'troepen' (oe = pronounced as oo). A mercenary is called a 'rent soldier' and we don't have militia as such.

Not to work this conversation into any more twists than it has already, but while I was in, it was not uncommon to hear a soldier referred to as a 'troop', singular, usually a superior referring to an inferior. As in, 'Pvt Smith is a good troop, I don't believe he would be late to formation!'

I have no idea where or when this usage started, though.

Language Log on "troops" and "forces".

You all support so nicely soldiers, marines, airmen, sailor, Coast Guard personnel, but why have you forgot the NOAA Commissioned Corps and USHS officers. They are uniformed military, too! ;-)

Seriously, I disagree with G'Kar. I like seeing the (Finnish) conscript soldiers, airmen and sailors on Sunday evenings, returning to their garrisons from their loved ones. This is because I believe their service makes Finland a safer place to live in a turbulent world.

In the US, G'Kar has a point. However, in a country with a conscription, the people's responsibility for conscripts is universal. They are forced to serve: therefore, we must make sure they serve safely and in meaningful duties. Well, in a country like ours, the question about going to war is much less acute than for you. However, for us, it means sending a family member from about every family. I would be going myself. I don't want to go. That's why I oppose all non-essential wars (wars that do not start with enemy divisions rolling over the border).

"Disassociate much, Gary?"

Taking quotes from two entirely separate comments, and running them together with no clue or link as to where you are quoting from, and no indication that you've jammed together disparate text, is, ah, not a good practice.

I'll assume you weren't being deliberately dishonest, but merely making a dishonest presentation out of sloppy irresponsibility.

The reason for the disparity is the context that you so entirely don't bother to include, or perhaps, notice.

When I wrote this:

[...] Neither have you provided the slightest evidence that there's any distinction in common "associations" (or connotations) between the words "soldiers" and "troops," outside your own head.
The context for that was it was in response to Tony P.'s claim:
Gary, the whole strategery of subliminable messaging is that the audience should _not_ notice the implications it is swallowing. I cannot prove that the words "soldiers" and "troops" conjure up different associations in most people's minds, but I do suggest that "support the soldiers" just would not work as a slogan the way "support the troops" does. Too many people would notice the underlying illogic, just due to changing that one word.
And:
[...] Depending on what associations one wishes to set up, the prefered term will be "troops" in some cases and "soldiers" in others.
Those were the referred-to, and still never-supplied, or responded to, "associations" that I was referring to when I made the shocking charge that nobody has "provided the slightest evidence that there's any distinction in common 'associations' (or connotations) between the words 'soldiers' and 'troops.'"

This happens to be true.

In an earlier comment, the topic of singular/plural agreement came up. Then it came up again.

Thus I wrote:

[...] Because "soldiers" are individuals, and the word "soldier" is singular, and the word "troops," which refers to many soldiers, is plural.

I thought I just explained this simple point at over-elaborate length.

Your brilliant response to two entirely separate comments, about entirely separate points, one about the lack of any evidence for Tony P.'s assertion, and the other about singular/plural agreement:
Disassociate much, Gary?
This doesn't seem to add much to the conversation, other than the need for me to write a tediously long comment explaining to you what what you read.

Gary, I disagree. In the one case you said there was no evidence that people treat the meanings differently.

In the second case you gave a clear explanation why one would expect they would treat the meanings differently.

In your mind those are two different topics with no connection whatsoever.

To me, you have answered your own question but you fail to notice.

I shouldn't have treated it so flippantly. I apologise for that.

Horribly late, but in case any one reads this:

1) Excellent essay, G'Kar. Thanks mucho!

2) Whatever happened to "GI"? That includes Army, Navy, Marine, National Guard, etc. We have this wonderful inclusive word. Why not use it? ("I support the GI's. Every single one of them" would go over well, I think.)

3) Excellent essay, G'Kar. Thanks mucho!

"Whatever happened to 'GI'?"

It means "General Infantry," which is to say, only a small segment of the Army, and no other service.

"That includes Army, Navy, Marine, National Guard, etc."

Well, no, that's simply completely false and absolute nonsense. Why do people say things like that?

It means "General Infantry,"

Dave Wilton, referencing the Historical Dictionary of American Slang, disagrees.

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