Stein Stands by ‘L.A. Times’ Column on U.S. Troops That Drew Protest

By: E&P Staff

Los Angeles Times columnist Joel Stein says he stands by his Tuesday column, after being “bombarded” with email, as he put it. Stein, the former Time magazine staff writer, had written a column that began, “I don’t support our troops.”

Stein tells Reuters he does not regret writing it and stands by the premise.

The Times online site has put up a poll on the subject, in its opinion section, asking readers if someone can oppose the war but support the troops–yes or no. It also offers a third choice: “Why did you hire Joel Stein again?”

The column, which ran on the Times opinion page on Tuesday, was quickly linked at conservative sites and others, and hundreds of letters poured in to Stein and the Times. Among those who have written to E&P, Bruce Pyle of Las Vegas, Nev., wrote that “it is going to be hard to distinguish between Stein and Bin Laden when it comes to their views on America.” Others praised him for his honesty.

One man posted at the NewsBusters site, “Stein should be bowing his head in shame. Doubtful though.” Conservative columnist Michelle Malkin quickly nominated Stein as “one of the most loathsome people in America.”

Stein, whose columns are often humorous in nature, commented to Reuters that whenever a politician opposes the war but supports the troops “I just always think they are covering their ass.” He appeared on the talk radio show of conservative Hugh Hewitt on Tuesday and said, “I don’t want empty sentiments prolonging the war.”

Hewitt had written on his blog, “These are not illegal opinions, of course, but they are deeply repulsive ones, and I don’t believe the Los Angeles Times ought to have run this column.” At the same time, Atrios at the liberal blog, Eschaton, dubbed Stein “Wanker of the Day.”

A message board at the Los Angeles Times site was flooded with anti-Stein comments, one suggesting that he was the “love child” of former Times columnist Robert Scheer and Jane Fonda. There was some support, too, such as this example: “Finally someone had the guts to say it. These soldiers are volunteers and responsible for the deaths of more than 50,000 innocent men, women and children and they should be held responsible, just like the people who started this illegal war.”

In his column, Stein wrote that “being against the war and saying you support the troops” suggests that “the one lesson they took away from Vietnam wasn’t to avoid foreign conflicts with no pressing national interest but to remember to throw a parade afterward.”

Stein added: “I understand the guilt. We know we’re sending recruits to do our dirty work, and we want to seem grateful.”

Other points:

–“Blindly lending support to our soldiers, I fear, will keep them overseas longer by giving soft acquiescence to the hawks who sent them there ? and who might one day want to send them somewhere else.”

–“Besides, those little yellow ribbons aren’t really for the troops. They need body armor, shorter stays and a USO show by the cast of ‘Laguna Beach.’ The real purpose of those ribbons is to ease some of the guilt we feel for voting to send them to war and then making absolutely no sacrifices other than enduring two Wolf Blitzer shows a day….”

–“After we’ve decided that we made a mistake, we don’t want to blame the soldiers who were ordered to fight. Or even our representatives, who were deceived by false intelligence. And certainly not ourselves, who failed to object to a war we barely understood.”

–“All I’m asking is that we give our returning soldiers what they need: hospitals, pensions, mental health and a safe, immediate return.”

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