Ever since the war in Iraq began, I've been fascinated by the difference between these two slogans, which you can see all over the place (admittedly, in semi-rural PA, the top image, the one I've labelled "image A," is a lot more common). The phrases are almost identical: "come home" versus
"bring them home." But the rhetorical differences are immense. I'm sure there is not asingle reader who could come across either of these two signs (and understand that they were referring to Iraq), and not
be able to guess with high accuracy where the sign's owner stands politically with regard to the war and the present administration's policies more generally. Sign A individually or collectively "addresses" the troops, fictitiously, and sign B, just as fictitiously of course, "addresses" the commanders and political leaders responsible for the war. By "fictitiously" I simply mean that the soldiers and leaders in question will probably never see the signs or flags; the people that are going to read them and think about their messages are neighbors, passers-by, ordinary citizens. The imperative form — the commanding tone, as in "bring!" or "come!" — is assumed for purely rhetorical purposes, i.e. to convince
the reader of some idea
to convince them to "bring the troops home" or "come home" themselves
. This is obvious, of course, though in my experience people don't tend to think about it, because naturally no one reading the signs is likely to have the power to carry out
either command. (On a side note, this makes such slogans different from, say, "Eat at the Liberty Diner" or "Vote No on Proposition Three," where there is a clear, obvious, and direct connection between the message and the hoped-for action on the part of the recipient. People driving or walking by might really
go to the Liberty for lunch or think about voting No on the referendum.)
Anyhow, what's interesting about this, I think, is that the first one, the "supportive" or "non-opposition" one (for lack of a better word), sign A, phrases its injunction in a way that pretends
— I don't know how else to put it — that the troops actually have a choice
as to whether or not they "come home soon," where of course we all know that they don't
— there are probably many of them who'd like to come home tomorrow, but they don't actually have that option open to them right now. The "opposition" one, sign B, suggests by its phrasing that there is someone who has the power to bring the troops home — someone in power who can make the choice
to determine whether and how long our troops remain engaged. Sign A, in fact, obscures the fact that there is a power differential between the troops themselves, who are not really in much of a position to make significant decisions about their own deployment or survival, and the actual decisionmakers, who could, if they wished, remove ever American serviceman and -woman from the Middle East in a matter of days.
In doing so, sign A also touchingly ascribes a kind of agency to the individual troops that they may or may not have (subjectively speaking; of course, I've never been in combat, thank God, and so I can't even guess what it feels like to be deployed in hostile or dangerous territory). The sign seems to send the message, "We are thinking about you as people
, not simply as powerless cogs in a geopolitical machine; take care of yourself, be safe, and get back here quickly." The implication is that the war itself
, which is the reason they're there, just sort of happened
; no one chose
war, it was simply inevitable, the result of vast political and historical forces that none of us can really understand or control. It simply comes about from time to time that our young men and women must march off to defend our freedoms (think of the lyrics to the Hamilton Haven song at the beginning of Robert Altman's Nashville
: "I pray my sons won't go to war, but if they must, they must"). So there's a kind of double fiction: wars just happen, on the one hand, sort of like diseases of history; on the other hand, our troops who are over there fighting are there because of their own sense of honor, dignity, and duty to country (essentially, because they decided to go
because they were ordered to (and, if they disagree with the order, they would face serious consequences were they to act
on that disagreement).
I'm tapped out for the night. I'm signing off. If you made it this far, have a look at these two recent images from Iraq:
. Click on the image for a larger view. Look closely at the inscription on the tank's barrel.
This one's just kind of amusing.