Support our troops? Am I fat?

I recently came across a post asking whether anyone has really thought about the phrase, “Support our troops.” This is an excellent question and I wrote a comment. Here is what I wrote in a slightly more fleshed-out form:

From a conservative standpoint, the phrase “support our troops” is an example of the kind of political brilliance that one needs in order to win support for an ideological position. No one in their right mind would say, “I don't support our troops,” because they would be ridiculed as being inhumane and unloving. But by using the phrase, “I support our troops,” you are inevitably viewed as a supporter of the Iraq war (or at least of the U.S.’s military policies in general).

In other words, the phrase is not unlike the question by a wife or girlfriend, “Am I fat?” There is, quite simply, no good answer. Likewise, there is no good answer to the question, “Do you support our troops?” It is the kind of brilliant word-game that Republicans use to silence criticism of the war.

As a Christian, I refuse to answer the question in the simple affirmative or negative. The only responsible response is, “What do you mean by that phrase? If you mean, do I support Bush’s foreign policy, then it is a clear No. If you mean, do I care about the people who are giving up their very lives for an unjust cause, then the answer is a clear Yes.”


Anonymous said…
The problem of course with equivocating at all on this kind of question is exactly the same as with the "am I fat?" - anything but an immediate yes answer is grounds for an argument, which in fact is often the purpose of asking it. The question is designed to set up a conflict where one person is immediately and inherently on the defensive by virtue of the conversational dynamics. As you said, it is a brilliant rhetorical move.

It might be more apt to play the game in reverse - "Are you for killing babies?", "Do you support mass murder?", "Do you like Americans dying for lie?"

These questions are of course false in all the ways the first question is false, but it points out that we're just playing a rhetorical game.
byron smith said…
There are questions that are unanswerable because one response is obviously called for though you don't want to head that way, then there are the questions that are unanswerable because of assumptions smuggled into the phrasing: "Have you stopped beating your wife?"