By Crispin Sartwell

Unanimity gives me the heebie-jeebies. And lately, I'm pretty nervous out on the highway and in the parking lots, where every car seems to have three yellow-ribbon magnets that say "Support Our Troops."

Even people who oppose the war "support our troops." I find this puzzling. If you think the war is wrong, then you think what the soldiers are doing is wrong.

One of the purposes of training soldiers to act under order is to create a disciplined, unified implementation of tactics. Another is to relieve as many people as possible of as much responsibility as possible for what they're doing.

But even in a context in which someone is telling you what to do, you're responsible for what you do. If this is not the case, then not only are there no war crimes, there are no war heroes.

To join the military is a decision. To allow yourself to be deployed to Iraq is a decision. No doubt it would be disconcerting to take yourself to be serving your country in, let us say, Vietnam and then come home to find yourself reviled. But if you yourself believed your decision to fight was the right decision, you should expect that others will disagree with you, and you should be able to weather the disagreement.

I am not under an obligation to praise you for taking actions I think are wrong. Now, if I believed that you acted in ignorance -- that, for example, you thought that conquering and occupying Iraq was "protecting our country," then I might regard that as something of an excuse. Then again, I might think that you should know your belief is false and that if you believe without question what Dick Cheney (or, for that matter, anyone else) says, then you're liable to do bad things.

Writing in 1848 during the Mexican-American War -- a war prosecuted on the flimsiest of pretexts with the most questionable of motives -- Henry David Thoreau wrote as follows: "A common and natural result of undue respect for the law is, that you see a file of soldiers, colonel, captain, privates, powder-monkeys, and all, marching in admirable order over hill and dale to the wars, against their wills, ay, against their common sense and consciences, which make it very steep marching indeed.

"The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines. ... In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or the moral sense; but they put themselves on the level with wood and earth and stones: and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well."

For us to oppose what our troops are doing and to support them for doing it is to regard them as inanimate objects, as things with no responsibility for their own actions. It is to excuse everything on the ground that the persons doing it have no conscience, understanding or will.

But we, too, need to accept our responsibility. Thoreau went to jail because -- in protest of the war and as a refusal to participate in it -- he declined to pay his taxes. I myself, though I oppose the war, am no tax resistor. In other words, when the authorities order me to cough up (or, rather, when they confiscate the war machine's cut directly from my paycheck), I utter nary a peep.

The laws and mechanisms under which I do this are designed precisely to exculpate me, to diminish my own sense of my responsibility. But whether the law treats me as a child, an object, an idiot or a victim, still I am responsible as I pay for what I hate.

Support our taxpayers.