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.


I selected Kevin Ryan's answer - false equivalence - as the correct answer, though I felt like there was something missing. His answer helped me put the pieces together, and I posted another answer that supplements his.

  • 1
    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 '20 at 13:34
  • 1
    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. Feb 14 '20 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 '20 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. Feb 14 '20 at 14:08
  • 1
    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 '20 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. Feb 15 '20 at 1:22
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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
    Feb 15 '20 at 10:20
  • I chose this as the best answer. However, I'm not sure if it's the whole answer. I feel that false equivalence is but a part of something a little bigger and more complex, but I can't quite put my finger on it. Feb 18 '20 at 6:09

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."

  • 1
    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. Feb 14 '20 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. Feb 14 '20 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.

  • 1
    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. Feb 15 '20 at 1:24
  • @DavidBlomstrom: People do tend to fail the ideal, don't they? But that doesn't make the ideal any less valid. Feb 15 '20 at 1:54
  • I don't have a clue what you mean. Feb 15 '20 at 2:00

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.


Kevin Ryan suggested "I don't support the war, but I do support the troops" is an example of false equivalence. I eventually selected that as the right answer, though I wasn't 100% certain.

Right or not, I don't think it's the whole story; I think this particular propaganda package is a little more complex.

First, I think it includes what you might call an implied or subliminal appeal to authority. Propagandists have expended enormous energy in promoting the idea that military personnel who commit heinous acts aren't guilty if they're only following orders. Of course, those orders come from above, with the commander-in-chief at the top of the food chain.

If the troops are absolved from guilty by merely following orders, then their superiors are also absolved from guilty, because they, in turn, are following orders. (I think this might be an example of what philosophers call regression.) In the end, the only guilty person is the commander-in-chief.

Yet even he may be ultimately protected by this line of reasoning. If the president is seen as doing the bidding of corporate entities, bankers or whatever, then he may also be seen as simply following orders. The guilty party is now essentially invisible.

The propagandists also tap into appeal to common belief (aka argumentum ad populum). By giving lots of publicity to citizens (particularly liberals) who obediently say "I support the troops," they send out the message that everyone supports the troops.

Another consideration is the fact that even many, if not most, anti-war protesters have relatives who are in the military. Protesting a war when your cousin is in harm's way can be extremely uncomfortable. When fellow (would be) protesters chant "I support the troops," that makes protesting a war even more painful. One could also argue that protesting might inflict psychological pain on the troops, some of whom might really believe they're doing the right thing. Catch-22.

Yet another propaganda technique is the mantra that the military is essentially necessary or good. In fact, one of the answers to my question begins, "Military personnel are trained professionals who put their lives on the line for the public good."

That isn't true. There are many grossly unprofessional people on the military, and many military personnel never risk their lives. One could argue that they haven't done anything for the public good since the War of 1812. Even people who think they can cite exceptions would have a hard time making the case that the war in Vietnam or the destruction of Libya helped the averge U.S. citizen.

Finally, there's at least one more element in play, but I'm not sure what to call it - maybe obfuscation or confusion?

If a group of anti-war protesters are interrupted by a person (particularly one who claims to be a liberal) who says "I support the troops," they will likely be cowed into silence. Exactly what does that mean, and why would a fellow liberal interrupt our protest with those words? If we climb on board and start cheering for the troops, how does that not support the war effort?

In summary, the words "I support the troops" don't technically qualify as a fallacy. But if you change it to "I don't support the war, but I do support the troops," then we're talking about a borderline fallacy at the least.

When you look at the whole package, you see a variety of strategies based on philosophy and psychology that serve to confuse and intimidate anti-war protesters.

Kevin Ryan's answer, false equivalence, helped me put the pieces together. It may also be a better answer than any of the individual points I discuss in my answer, so I'll leave it at the correct answer. However, I don't think it's a complete answer.

  • Kevin Ryan suggested "I don't support the war, but I do support the troops" is an example of false equivalence.
    – Kevin Ryan
    Feb 18 '20 at 17:41
  • NO David, I didn't. I said that those who say that not supporting the war is not supporting the troops are making the false equivalence. Those who reply that they support the troops only, are Not making a fallacy. They are responding to a fake position. You have identified the fallacy on the wrong side of the argument. I told you that you'd written your question backwards. You're still describing my position backwards. I don't seem able to explain it better.
    – Kevin Ryan
    Feb 18 '20 at 17:57
  • Sorry. I can't delete my comment, but your comment clarifies the issue. The bottom line is, the answer to my question appears to be false equivalence. Feb 19 '20 at 2:04
  • However...this is confusing! I'm still a little uncertain. Is the average American really smart enough to recognize false equivalence and respond to it? I suppose it could be intuitive. But I see it more as an example of intimidation. When you say you don't support a war, you're accused of not supporting the troops (which likely include your own relatives). In desperation you affirm that you DO support the troops. Feb 19 '20 at 2:08
  • I'd say the overwhelming majority recognise soldiers as their own countrymen, doing what they've been ordered to do. I don't think it's about desperation. It's not the soldiers fault when they get sent to fight some spurious, political driven war and people know that, even when they're strongly anti-war.
    – Kevin Ryan
    Feb 19 '20 at 8:52

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