I recently received an email telling about an anonymous passenger who bought sack lunches for soldiers aboard a commercial airline flight as a gesture of patriotism. It was a heartwarming story about how the person who paid $50 for 10 lunches was handed, by fellow passengers, another $75 which was passed along to the soldiers. The anonymous writer concluded: “A veteran is someone who, at one point in his life, wrote a blank check payable to ‘The United States of America’ for an amount of ‘up to an including my life.’ That is an honor, and there are way too many people in this country who no longer understand it.”

Who can disagree with those sentiments? Nonetheless, recent events make me question the degree to which those who wave the flag and put “Support the Troops” bumper stickers on their vehicles really “understand it.” Although I only saw the email recently, Snopes traced it back to October 2008.

When the Bush-Cheney regime rushed to war for what turned out to be deadly false reasons, those who opposed the war were called unpatriotic because they did not “support the troops.” After nearly 4,500 American soldiers and an estimated hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are dead, isn’t it fair to question the reasons we sent American solders to their doom (at the very least, to avoid doing it again)? By blindly supporting Bush’s folly, were we supporting the troops? Or were those who opposed the war in the first place the ones who really supported the troops?

Do we really “support the troops,” or only the ones who don’t run afoul of our personal standards? During the Sept. 22 Republican presidential debate, Army Capt. Stephen Hill, then stationed in Iraq, was booed loudly by the audience for asking if the candidates would ban gays serving openly in the military. Not one of the Republican candidates stood up for Hill. It’s troubling and ironic that Hill risked his life to protect the freedoms of those who booed him, those who chant “support the troops” but don’t really support the rights of soldiers to be themselves in our free society.

The “Occupy Wall Street” movement has been mocked and reviled by those who cheer the loudest that they “support the troops.” Fox News has vilified the protesters, most frequently with “get a job, take a bath” sort of comments and accusations of criminality. Many of the protesters are veterans, who have an unemployment rate of 12.1%. Fox viewers “support the troops” but not their right to protest and would rather yell “get a job, take a bath” than listen to protesting veterans. Scott Olsen, who served as a U.S. Marine in Iraq, suffered serious injuries Oct. 25 in the “Occupy Oakland” protest. We “support the troops” but oppose Olsen? Of course, not all the people involved in the “occupy” protests are unemployed, so the mere act of protesting automatically makes them undesirable.

The high unemployment rate among veterans is partly due to the fact that many, including reservists, were repeatedly redeployed and unable to hold a steady job. This sad fact of life has led to veterans suffering a high rate of foreclosure of their homes. Fox News viewers are told that the record foreclosures are the fault of liberal politicians, corrupt bureaucrats, and greedy borrowers trying to game the system; people losing their homes deserve it. So let’s “support the troops,” except when they are losing their homes to foreclosure.

In the end, after pondering all of these circumstances, I reached the sad conclusion that “support the troops” is nothing more than an empty jingoistic phrase that people chant to feel patriotic while in reality they are Judas toward the troops by turning against them when need it most. They will feel self-satisfied when they cough up 50 bucks to buy sack lunches for soldiers, but that’s as far as it goes. These same people don’t really support the troops, if they protest inequality, are gay or unemployed or are losing their homes. Worst of all, many who “support the troops” are willing to send them off to risk their lives on a fool’s errand, without thinking twice, then label the returning soldier unpatriotic when he protests the unjust war.

Maybe they should put an asterisk on the bumper stickers like this: SUPPORT THE TROOPS* along with this caveat: (unless they are gay, protest inequality, unemployed or in foreclosure). Before anyone plants a “Support the Troops” bumper stick on their vehicle, they should read the following words: “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and truth” in 1 John 3:18.

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John Wright is the author of The Obama Haters: Behind the Right-Wing Campaign of Lies, Innuendo and Racism (Potomac Books) and co-author of Life Without Oil: Why We Must Shift to a New Energy Future (Prometheus Books). His web page is www.johnswright.com.