photo credit: rcvernors

Drive around town for a few minutes, and chances are you’ll encounter a car emblazoned with a bumper sticker or magnet that encourages you to “Support Our Troops”. With almost 1.4 million active duty soldiers and close to the same number in the reserves, tens of millions of Americans are connected to a solider either through immediate or extended family ties, friendship, or some other close association.

If 1% of our population is in the military, then a whole lot more are inherently its supporters by virtue of the fact that a loved one’s life is being put in danger in its service. The emotional ties involved in such a relationship to the military and its campaigns have resulted in the slogan “Support Our Troops” becoming almost entirely synonymous with support for whatever campaign they are engaged in, and whatever policies come down from their commander-in-chief and his war-making subordinates. The slogan lacks any qualifiers, promises and encourages an endorsement of whatever action the troops are assigned, and perpetuates a blind allegiance to what has long become a mighty military machine.

Such a situation often makes me think of a man by the name of Alexander Doniphan. Latter-day Saints often revere this man for his courageous rejection of military orders he did not agree with. Doniphan, not a member of the Church, risked his reputation in his community by defending the Mormons against expulsion from Jackson County in 1833. As a state representative, he was able to convince his colleagues in the Missouri legislature to create Caldwell County for their settlement. A few years later, when anti-Mormon troops surrounded Far West and ultimately forced its surrender, General Samuel D. Lucas ordered Doniphan, a member of the militia, to summarily execute Church leader and Prophet Joseph Smith, along with six other leaders who were being held in custody.

Astonishingly, he chose a path that I like to call “righteous insubordination”, and wholly refused to carry out such orders. Further, his response to his superior officer shows his bold adherence to the principles at play in this politically-charged circumstance:

It is cold-blooded murder. I will not obey your order. My brigade will march for Liberty at 8:00 tomorrow morning, and if you execute these men I will hold you personally responsible before an earthly tribunal, so help me God.

Rather than execute a group of men who had not been found guilty by either a civil or military tribunal, Doniphan was willing to face a court-martial and jeopardize his military career and reputation.

In my mind, supporting the troops 170 years ago would not have meant turning a blind eye to their thievery, drunkenness, and in many cases, brutal oppression of innocent individuals. It would not have meant supporting Doniphan and his associates in faithfully and unhesitatingly carrying out the orders to execute a group of men who many Missouri officials would likely have classified as being “terrorist suspects” or “enemy combatants” in today’s propaganda-laden vernacular. And it would not have meant supporting them in executing Governor Boggs’ extermination order of an entire religious community.

Troops are individuals with spouses, parents, children, and many other loved ones. They are not pawns in a large game of chess—world empire edition—to be cheerfully supported in their role in the game, whatever that may be. Thus, supporting our troops is better done by supporting the individual, and doing whatever possible to ensure their safety—not simply on the battlefield. It implies ensuring that the only active campaigns they are engaged in are those that are absolutely necessary, fully justified, and as efficient and short-lived as possible.

I like to think that I would have supported Alexander Doniphan—not as a cheerleader on the sidelines of his various engagements in the militia, but as an individual who adhered to principle, rejected an immoral and unjust order from his superior, and sued for peace both on the battlefield and in the court room, as a trial lawyer who saved scores of people from the death penalties they were threatened with—Joseph Smith included.

Likewise, I support our troops by opposing unjust war and rejecting the bi-partisan idea that they should be spread out across the world to maintain over 700 bases in over 150 countries, to say nothing of the various wars and covert campaigns conducted in the name of spreading democracy and waging war on “terrorism”. I support them as husbands and wives, sons and daughters, and fathers and mothers who deserve to remain at home with their loved ones, only to be pulled away for war in the most exigent of circumstances that are in our legitimate defense—not aggression carried on in the name and under the false cloak of defense.


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