Support the troops, not pure nationalism

It’s no surprise that Americans have been questioning U.S. presence in Iraq for a long time now. No one can maintain the interest – forget the support – of Americans for more than a few

It’s no surprise that Americans have been questioning U.S. presence in Iraq for a long time now. No one can maintain the interest – forget the support – of Americans for more than a few months. In March, we’ll have the three-year anniversary of the American invasion.A Gallup poll from last month showed 57 percent of those interviewed wanted the troops withdrawn from Iraq within six months. Fifty two percent said going to Iraq wasn’t worth what it has cost the United States.But, who has seen a yellow ribbon or heard “support the troops” today? We all still support the troops, don’t we?Andrew Flint, who spent 11 months in Samarra, north of Baghdad in Iraq, might agree with that. Flint, a junior international business major at Temple, said the support for his sacrifice “was everywhere.”Support the troops!Even politicians who are critical of the war, like Senators Edward Kennedy (D., Mass.) and Joseph Biden (D., Del.), make the pledge daily. Support the troops!Such widespread backing would have to net increased numbers of Americans joining the military.Earlier this month, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld pointed to just such a trend.”The number of recruits who signed an enlistment contract is 25 percent higher than last year,” Rumsfeld said.He testified before the House Appropriations Committee that the U.S. Army was exceeding projected enlistment estimates by “large margins – the highest that they’ve been for five years,” Rumsfeld said. Support the troops!But with a closer look, that sensible trend is coinciding with a drastic change in recruitment standards.In the past, if someone had been convicted of public drunkenness or even if he had flat feet or asthma, the armed forces weren’t taking him. That is, unless a recruiter filled out an enlistment waiver saying that he was capable of service. Of late, the number of those waivers has been ballooning.About 11,000 were granted in a 12-month period ending in September 2005. That’s a significant 16 percent bump from the 9,300 in 2004.In fact, 31 percent more recruits came from the once ineligible category of “serious criminal misconduct” last year than the year before. Six hundred and thirty recruits, who had charges like aggravated assault, robbery and making terrorist threats in their backgrounds, were admitted.Regarding Rumsfeld’s comments about increasing recruitment the past five years, it might be worth noting that Army statistics show a steady increase in these waivers over that half-decade.An Army spokesman told the Baltimore Sun two weeks ago that the increase in waivers didn’t reflect a lowering of standards or difficulties in achieving recruiting goals.While I don’t pretend to know the ins and outs of Army recruitment, that’s hard to believe seeing that overall enlistment rates are down. Some 73,000 men and women enlisted in 2005, a 5.4 percent reduction from the 77,000 that enlisted the preceding year.So it seems support is universal, but enlistment doesn’t correlate. What gives?Temple sociology professor Rosario Espinal contends that it’s easier to be supportive now that the days of a military draft are behind us.”It’s a voluntary army; most people don’t have to face the possibility of going to war,” Espinal said. “It’s easy to support something when you’re not directly affected by it.”It seems that lots of civilians are taking the easy road and allowing other Americans to risk their lives. How do we get away with it? We support the troops! It’s the perfect defense.What you have to ask yourself is if you support those troops because our country, our lives, our sport utility vehicles are being protected by those men and women, instead of you doing the protecting. If that’s the case, be sure to slap a “support the troops” decal on your bumper to avoid suspicion that your affection isn’t out of pure nationalism. Support the troops! Oh, and be sure to write me a letter and call me un-American. Support the troops!Christopher George Wink can be reached at

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