Friday, February 24, 2006 | Driving home by the Federal Building on Front Street, I observe frequent assemblies of well-dressed concerned people sporting signs reading “Support Our Troops.” For a number of reasons, these demonstrations make me uneasy.

Of course, I most definitely want to support our military in Iraq. Use of the collective remote term “troops” instead of the more hospitable “soldiers,” however, suggest that the demonstrators have little understanding of what it really means to be almost constantly at risk on a battlefield like Iraq.

Supporting our soldiers requires, first of all, a great effort of imagination to understand what is almost impossible to grasp or even to share with people who have not experienced combat.

Arriving on the battlefield, you suddenly realize that you are really being shot at. At first you are petrified and it takes a supreme effort of the will not to be paralyzed. Mercifully that is soon overridden by anger and by concern for your buddies. All you know for sure is that you are under orders and you have to move into the field of fire to do your job. The family with whom you share your immediate fate and on whom your life depends is around you.

When you are in combat the issue of whether you are engaged in a just war or not is neither relevant nor significant. Right now you represent and defend the United States of America in a highly circumscribed environment where life and death is your sole focus if you are to prevail and survive.

“Support our troops” is well and good as far as it goes. But I fear that none of what this sentence implies has the substance of reality. It seems to be a cheap way to offer a positive element to a vacuous signal to help the situation in Iraq.

Unfortunately, it takes a lot more than parading with signs to offer sustenance to our engaged military. None of this seems to be understood with any insight, nor does it suggest any affinity with our soldiers by our leaders in Washington, most of whom have never heard a bullet or a piece of exploding shell whiz by, or the startled cry and groan of cruelly pierced flesh, or that unique, pervasive, unforgettably sweet smell of death.

That is what is going on in Iraq right now, while at home in San Diego, we have the luxury and the privilege to complain about the high price of gasoline, the main reason why our soldiers are fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Elie A. Shneour, a native of France and World War II U.S. veteran, is president of Biosystems Institutes, Inc. and research director of Biosystems Research Institute of San Diego.

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