Monday, November 22, 2004

The program described in this Stars & Stripes article sounds good, but forgive me if I'm a bit suspicious:

The Pentagon has a message for its troops serving in war zones: America Supports You.

That’s the name of a new campaign, introduced Friday at the Pentagon by Charlie Abell, principal deputy under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness.

Abell said the program is designed so that the Department of Defense can “realize what’s going on and to be able to tell our soldiers and their families that we support you.”

The effort is two-pronged, according to Allison Barber, special assistant to the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, internal communication/public liaison.

“We’re going to go to Americans and say, ‘Join our Web site. Tell us what you’re doing to support the troops.’ The second part is we’re going to take the info to the troops.

“We have a myriad of ways to talk to the troops, to provide information, and we’re going to use them all,” Abell said....

I have to accept the reality that a lot of the troops aren't sure they have our support. Maybe they just can't get their minds around the notion that even those of us who oppose the war are on their side, or maybe once they're in the military they're fed propaganda that tells them that the many war opponents they hear and read about (including, presumably, the 49% of voters who didn't support Bush) are troop-hating traitors. So I guess I understand why the Pentagon might want to do this.

But it leaves me uneasy. I was having some trouble putting the reasons for my suspicions into words, but then I read this letter from Jamil Smith of Philadelphia, which appeared in yesterday's New York Times Magazine in response to an article about those "Support Our Troops" magnets that are showing up on cars:

... One might as well have a magnet with such condescending commands as "Love Your Children" or "Pay Your Taxes." Both might elicit the same reaction as "Support Our Troops": I already do, but why do I need you to tell me to do so?

What I was more interested in was the fact that the thinking behind these magnets might feed into the exclusionary zeitgeist that the Bush administration promotes with its nationalistic fear strategy: beware of neighbors who oppose our war, for they are against you.

Yeah, that sounds about right. And this seems like another way to demand conformity and create a sense of group identity: Sign up! We have! (And I bet those sandal-wearing peaceniks down the street haven't.)

Beyond that, is the Pentagon's program really necessary? After all, if you go to the America Supports You Web site and then to the How You Can Help page, you'll see 27 links to programs that are already helping civilians provide kind words and tangible aid to troops. In fact, as the Stars & Stripes article notes, the main point of the Pentgon program seems to be just to collect stories from people who are already helping the troops.

Now, why would the Pentagon want to do that?

Maybe the Pentagon really just wants to remind the troops that we care. But maybe there's another goal. Did you read the story in Friday's New York Times in which Ken Mehlman, the manager of Bush's reelection campaign, talked about some of the campaign's techniques?

Rather than dispatching troops to knock on doors in neighborhoods known to be heavily Republican, Mr. Mehlman said, the Bush campaign studied consumer habits in trying to predict whom people would vote for in a presidential election.

"We did what Visa did," Mr. Mehlman said. "We acquired a lot of consumer data. What magazine do you subscribe to? Do you own a gun? How often do the folks go to church? Where do you send your kids to school? Are you married?

"Based on that, we were able to develop an exact kind of consumer model that corporate America does every day to predict how people vote - not based on where they live but how they live," he said. "That was critically important to our success."

Hmmm ... what do you suppose happens when you log on to America Supports You and tell them a little bit about yourself? Who do you suppose gets the information?

Ken Mehlman, maybe?

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