In the U.S., many liberals say "I don't support the war, but I support troops." Loosely translated, it sounds like they're saying

I don't support the war, but I support the troops who are fighting the war.

On the face of it, it doesn't appear to be a fallacy so much as a slogan, meme or whatever. Yet it does sound like the person saying it is being deceptive, appearing to straddle both sides of the fence.

Can you see any kind of fallacy, or something bordering on fallacious in this statement? Alternatively, can you put this statement in its proper niche?

As far as I know, the slogan was popularized when George W. Bush was commander-in-chief, probably the fruit of some propaganda campaign. Countless ordinary citizens began repeating it, and they may interpret it in different ways.

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    There's a popular Christian phrase with a longer history: "hate the sin, love the sinner", that sounds eerily similar to this one. Given that and this phrase's origin, why jump to malice ("propaganda campaign") when this seems adequately explained as organic (a derivative of this Christian phrase)? – H Walters Feb 14 at 13:34
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    The phrase may have been inspired by a Christian phrase, but it was clearly promoted as part of a propaganda campaign. During the 1960's, people were very outspoken in their opposition to the war in Vietnam. But under Bush, the war hawks would look at would be protesters and ask, "Do you support the troops?" I was frankly stunned by the way people fell in line. – David Blomstrom Feb 14 at 13:43
  • So here is what I literally take from your comment. To me, it looks like the problem is that your expectations were violated as to how people would react to troops. So to explain that violation of your expectations, you allege that these people "fell in line" due to a "propaganda campaign". I'll stop here; no further interpretations... just this. – H Walters Feb 14 at 14:05
  • ??? Sorry, but you missed by a mile. As I said, the difference between how protesters acted in the 1960's (I remember, because I was born in 1955) compared to how they acted under George Bush is truly dramatic. And there was obviously some propaganda (or mind control) going on. It's similar to the way "they" manipulate people with the American flag or the national anthem. – David Blomstrom Feb 14 at 14:08
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    Well, that's literally what you said: "I was frankly stunned by" <- violated expectations, "the war hawks would look at" <- a narrative, for which I've given no comment one way or another, but you're using it to explain the violated expectation. "the difference" ...I'm sure it was different. "It's similar" <- that's still a narrative. I'm not saying your narrative is false here; I'm just emphasizing that this is the starting point of what I'm taking from what you said. You have had violated expectations and you are trying to make sense out of them using this narrative. – H Walters Feb 14 at 14:36

It's an Intentional Fallacy using False Equivalence. It's saying "if you don't support the war, then you don't support our soldiers who are dying in this war". It's pretending that only a single inference can be drawn, which isn't true. Obviously you can be very much opposed to a war but still feel empathy for the soldiers, and in fact you want to bring them home. In this example, it's a cynical way of conflating two separate issues to promote a pro-war viewpoint.

You can find many articles online describing different types of False Equivalence


  • False equivalence - that sounds like a pretty good fit. I think this is the best answer so far. – David Blomstrom 2 days ago
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    Thanks, but you have written the question backwards. The liberals saying that they support the troops aren't guilty of a fallacy, they're responding to the false equivalence that anti-war = anti-soldier – Kevin Ryan 2 days ago

I believe that some people believe that some others actually want to go to war for their own agenda. When these people say, "I don't support the war, but I support troops." I believe they mean, "I don't support these people who use war as their political and financial tools, but support the people who put their lives on the line as a necessary evil caused by the human greed."

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    I generally agree with your answer, though I'll stop short of marking it as the correct answer for now. The problem is that most rational people know that the great majority of our military troops aren't really putting their lives on the line. With our hyper-military, we probably kill 100 of the enemy for every U.S. soldier that's killed. In Iraq, we slaughtered over a a million people and only lost a few thousand or our own. Also, I think most people understand that most (almost all) of our wars aren't necessary. – David Blomstrom Feb 14 at 13:46
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    However, one could argue that some people say they support the troops on the pretense that they could one day be called to fight a necessary war, though there probably isn't a single nation capable of invading the U.S. – David Blomstrom Feb 14 at 13:47

Military personnel are trained professionals who put their lives on the line for the public good. In that sense they are like police officers or firefighters, in that they are (ideally) trying to do what's right, but do not get much of a say in where they are sent or what they are told to do. As a general rule, there is no reason to malign a soldier (or a police officer, or a firefighter) for carrying out the task they were assigned, not unless it's such an egregious task that no right-thinking, conscientious person would do it. Troops in the military should be supported because they (as individuals) fill a necessary and important role in our society.

On the other hand, the people who send troops into combat do not always do so for noble, high-minded, or civically responsible reasons. This is as true of police and firefighters as soldiers. Sometimes police are sent to break up protests or strikes to protect powerful interests, or used to oppress minority groups; sometimes firefighters are told to protect wealthy neighborhoods over poor ones; sometimes soldiers are sent into battle to advance the political and economic interests of powerful people, not because it's good for the nation as a whole. When wars are conducted for bad reasons, they should not find support in the populace as a whole, because it is a waste of public resources for personal gain, and an un-sanctionable risk to the lives of military personnel.

Sometimes, the only way to support troops is to oppose unreasoning war.

The reason a lot of (quote)liberals(unquote) use this apparently equivocating phrasing is that a lot of (quote)rightists(unquote) have adopted the strategy of trying to promote irrational war by leveraging support of the troops. In other words, they refuse to talk about the war itself — as though the war itself was unquestionable and beyond all criticism — and then try to induce shame and guilt by talking about our poor troops suffering in foreign lands. It's a bit like watching a parent beat a child, and then turn around and say: "Look how my child is suffering, please give me money!" If that parent really wanted that child to stop suffering, he would stop beating it; if (quote)rightists(unquote) really wanted to support their troops, they would stop sending them into harm's way for no good reason. But that's a complex argument that is difficult to make on the fly, particularly to someone who is being disingenuous in the first place, so most (quote)liberals(unquote) don't bother, and just try to push the question off.

N.B. In case you haven't noticed, I dislike McCarthyist, FOX Channel, 'dey be da bad people' labels. I'd ask you to leave them out of future posts.

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    Ouch. You made some good comments, but that first paragraph was painful to read. I spent four years in the military long ago. I've worked with many veterans, along with new enlistees. The great majority don't put their lives on the line, and doubt that any have done so "for the public good" since the War of 1812. In fact, one could argue that today's troops are dragging us down, as witnessed by our national debt (over $23 trillion) plus our sagging public image. Many of the military enlistees I've met over the years are frankly pretty embarrassing even as civilians. – David Blomstrom 2 days ago
  • @DavidBlomstrom: People do tend to fail the ideal, don't they? But that doesn't make the ideal any less valid. – Ted Wrigley 2 days ago
  • I don't have a clue what you mean. – David Blomstrom 2 days ago

There is no fallacy in not supporting the war but supporting the soldiers, who are basically forced to fight the war. Forced, because enlisted soldiers cannot just simply leave the military shortly like a civilian can quit his job. For a soldier "quitting" before their end of service commitment is desertion.

But there is a problem with the wording; it is weaselly. Between the lines it communicates something slightly different, something not explicitly said.

So what does "support the troops who are fighting the war" mean, exactly? (1) Is it that you simply just hope for minimal casualties? (2) Or do you wish the troops military success, too? It sounds a bit like (2), too, which would be inconsistent and hypocritical.

Why such a focus on the troops of your own country anyway? Sure, there is likely a stronger bond with your soldiers, your countrymen to which you feel indebted. But why not even mention foreign civilians, for example? They bear the brunt of the war.

I think that "I don't support the war, but I support the troops who are fighting the war" can only be earnestly said if you believe the war has some sort of justification and you just regard it as an overall bad decision.

It's not what someone would say who thinks the war is truly unjust.

Disclaimer: getting the linguistic nuances right is important for correctly answering this question. But English is not my native language.

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