Monday, April 7, 2008

Support the Troops: Make Them More Than a Campaign Prop

In American political discourse, opposition to war--in the general or the particular--must always be counterbalanced with an unquestioning belief that US troops are paradigmatic of all that is good and virtuous about the country. To oppose the war is possible, but comes with marginalization. To be perceived as not supporting the troops is a death sentence.

Support, however, comes in many different forms. While proponents of the war are always willing to lend their rhetorical and moral support in heaping portions, tangible support is often hard for the soldiers to come by. Famously, Donald Rumsfeld lent his support to troops looking through landfills for scrap metal to armor their vehicles thusly: "As you know, you have to go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you want." And thus were the spirits of the troops lifted by the support of their generous patrons in Washington.

That was 2004. Now comes a report released by the Inspector General of the Defense Department revealing that nearly half of Army contracts between 2004 and 2006 were put into rotation "without the gear ever going through an initial test."

Nearly $3 billion worth of body armor did not go through early inspections known as "first article testing," or FAT, that are performed before major production to ensure that a company can meet the contract's requirements and to catch any defects...

"Army contracting officials did not require or perform FAT for 13 of the 28 Army contracts and orders reviewed," the report said. As a result, the Defense Department "has no assurance" that the equipment produced under the 13 contracts "met the required standards," the report said.

'Supporting the troops' has become an empty, vapid mantra recited by those who wish to perpetuate a war fought under false pretenses and marginalize all those who disagree. But when it comes to supporting the soldiers in tangible form, such as testing the body armor their lives depend on, those same people are the first off the train.

The Army's response is a thing of beauty:

The Army manager who oversees the body armor program told Defense Department officials that "the Army has no evidence of deaths that can be attributed to defective body armor."

Oh. Of course not.

"None of this equipment in all of the tests we've done is flawed," said Paul Boyce, the spokesman. "It has not shown any signs of flaws."

None of the equipment you tested is faulty? Fantastic. But perhaps the point has eluded you. It's the armor you didn't test we're worried about.

Disagreements over the war aside, if you're sending the military overseas, it is at least a primary responsibility to properly equip and protect them. To bellow and proselytize about morale and support while wrapping a young man in armor you don't know is flawless rings hollow.

Hawks already have a monopoly on rhetorical support of the troops. Now we just need them to supplement that with a little tangible support.

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