I saw this bumper sticker on the back of a car — okay, it was an SUV, of course. On its face, it is not as offensive as “If You Like Your Freedom Thank a Vet” or “Freedom Isn’t Free.” These bumper stickers equate freedom with our enormous military that does very little to protect our freedom anymore. What it does is support corporate interests. But above all, these bumper stickers just say, “Whatever the military does is great and it is wrong to ever disagree.” In other words: you are not free to express your opinions. Subtext: because we lost the Vietnam War because people didn’t “support” the troops.
This new bumper sticker (new to me, anyway) is much better in that it is explicit. There is no pretense that the things we have the military do are for the good of the country or its people or any people, for that matter. It is simply belligerent. Note that it doesn’t say if you “can’t” stand behind the troops, it says “won’t.” So the problem, according to it, is horrible liberals like myself who just refuse to do what is right. It is not a matter of differing opinions.
Of course, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t “support” or “stand behind” the troops. This entire conservative meme is a phantom. No American I’ve ever seen has wished our military ill. So what people who claim that we must “support the troops” mean is that we must support whatever war the United States is involved in. What’s more, we must support ever more funding for our military. And above all, we must be bellicose, “America, fk yeah!”
The truth is that a lot of liberals (and some conservatives) over the years have indeed stood in front of the military. They did it to yell, “Stop! You’re making a mistake!” But again, people put these bumper stickers on their cars not to call for leadership but to call for conformity and the acquiescence to authority.
Everyone loves this photo:
But this is someone standing up to another country’s army — a country that we have, at best, a difficult relationship with. What this young man did is exactly what peace protesters do, but obviously not as ostentatiously and not with the shocking amount of courage. And this gets to the very heart of what I so hate about all of these bumper stickers: the mentality that goes along with them is authoritarian. It is “America: right or wrong.” And that is just about the most anti-American thing I can imagine.
Do we live in a military dictatorship? Is Bill O’Reilly right that after the government decides to go to war, all those who disagree should, “Shut up”? (This has long been official policy.) Should we all be good authoritarian followers who do just what the government tells us? I think the people who put these bumper stickers on their cars think so.
But these same people tend to be right wing reactionaries — supporters of the Tea Party and the John Birch Society and similar groups. And in general, these are the people whose love of and loyalty to the United States is the most contingent. These bumper stickers don’t say, “I love America!” They say, “I love the military!” America is always great regardless of what it does to others. But what America decides to do internally is not to be supported without conditions. These people believe in “America,” not America. And the unwavering support for any and all military adventures is a sign of that. And that, of all things, is what they put on the back of their cars.
 There is one early quote of this that I quite agree with. In 1872, Carl Schurz supposedly said, “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” But that is completely counter to the sentiment, “If You Won’t Stand Behind Our Troops, You Are More Than Welcome to Stand in Front of Them.”