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Five years later, what is it were supporting?

'Support Our Troops,' the yellow ribbon reads.

It looks like a magnet, stuck to the tailgate of a huge red pickup that just passed me.

There's an American flag pasted in his back window and a bumper sticker that says: 'Don't Like My American Flag? Then Move To Iraq.'

I am not impressed, but then I'm exactly the kind of young liberal that the bumper sticker targets.

I shift lanes. I'm now behind a green SUV. 'PEACE IS PATRIOTIC' screams a purple banner in this back window. And there's another yellow magnet, plastered on the bumper: 'Support Our Troops.'

It's March, again, and we've come up on the fifth anniversary of the war.

On March 20, 2003, U.S. troops were supposed to 'Shock and Awe' Saddam into submission, our mission would be 'accomplished' in a matter of weeks and we were told that by now, 2008, the brief Iraq conflict would be fading from our national, collective, memory.

Instead it festers like a sore.

We're sending soldiers on two, or even three, tours of duty. There are reports of atrocities on both sides, suicide bombings increase every day. The anti-war sentiment grows and as the death toll mounts, something else is on the rise too.

I merge left, onto I-5. Now I'm behind a white Honda Civic

'Eschew Obfuscation' the sole bumper sticker states, but there, plastered to a side door, is that familiar color and shape.

'Support Our Troops,' the yellow ribbon reads.

With every GI death and every regiment sent back to Iraq we, the American people, 'support' our troops more and more.

To hold any other viewpoint is to speak treason. To question the loyalty we owe the men and women serving in the military is to invite hatred.

What is it that soldiers do which places them above critique? What makes them so different from you or me?

They give up their innocence for blood and their youth for lessons in killing. But I (being the young, brash progressive that I am) have to wonder, why do we place them above reproach?

Peace Corps volunteers and firefighters arguably do just as much, but no one plasters cars with support for the recent college grad fighting against starvation in Ecuador.

I've taken an exit ramp and I'm sitting at a light. The guy next to me is blaring music so loud that I can hear it over his engine (which appears to have no connection to his muffler). As he pulls ahead on the green, next to images of punk rock bands, there it is again: 'Support Our Troops,' the yellow ribbon reads.

What is it I wonder, that pushes us to honor them so? There is the obvious: they do protect and they do defend.

Without our troops it can easily be said that we wouldn't have our liberty. Where then, if that's the only reason, were these stickers in 1997? 1999? 2000? Our troops protected us then, they were there - but where were we?

Sure, there was a surge of patriotism in September of 2001 in response to an atrocity. But why has our 'support' for our troops grown in intensity since then, instead of fading into history?

With every day that Iraq grows worse and more people die in Afghanistan, we 'support' our troops a little more. Every day that they risk their lives for nothing more than Arabic sand and a lie told to the American people, more stickers crop up. We applaud louder when they board our planes and the whispers of dissent about their character are more thoroughly punished.

Maybe we feel guilty. Guilty about sending men and women, some barely out of childhood, some grizzled with age, overseas to fight and to die to no end.

Maybe we feel guilty for stranding them there, with no escape. Guilty about sending poor men to fight an old, rich man's war.

We should never forget that those same people who protect our freedom and defend our democracy can also (just as easily) be used by the political machine to enact imperialism on behalf of America, on behalf of mega-corporations, on behalf of us.

Maybe it's because we didn't forget that, that we feel guilty.

We know that instead of supporting our troops back in 2003, we applauded the government that sent them to die. Now we cycle them through hell, over and over again with no foreseeable end and no real goal, while we plaster bumper stickers on our cars. We treat them as though they are living heroes, breathing gods, to make up for that guilt.

Our own guilt. The guilt of both sending them there in the first place, and the guilt of having no choice but to leave them there now.

I pull in, parallel parking behind a blue '76 Mustang with tinted windows.

'Support Our Troops,' the yellow ribbon reads.

Callie Vandewiele is a student at Pacific University.