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Joel Stein, who wrote humor for Time for years, published an unfortunate op-ed article in the Los Angeles Times last week saying that he does not support our troops in Iraq.
Unsurprisingly, he has been buried in criticism and even accused of trying to commit professional suicide as a writer. But beneath his breezy language (all wrong for a recommendation of indifference or hostility to U.S. troops), he has a point: "Support our troops" is an ambiguous phrase that clouds discussion of the merits of the war.
What does it means when an antiwar person is invited to "support our troops"? Doesn't it often mean "Keep the morale of our soldiers high by backing the cause they are fighting for"? In that sense, use of the phrase is an invitation to those who oppose the war to say something vaguely in favor of it, simply to avoid the charge of being unpatriotic. Stein was not up to the task of making this point in plain English. A reasonable argument poked through at one point, when Stein wrote that "being against the war and saying you support the troops is one of the wussiest positions the pacifists have ever taken."
But his piece was a mess. It deteriorated into an astonishing accusation that our troops are immoral for agreeing to fight in Iraq. Maybe he did commit professional suicide after all.