Amy Adams gives up her first-class seat to a soldier

How should we support our troops?

Amy Adams, the Academy Award-nominated actress, recently gave up her first-class seat on a flight to a soldier in his fatigues who was sitting in coach. It made headlines, as it naturally would, and was a feel-good moment all around. So what’s wrong with it?

Amy Adams as Amelia Earhart in "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian" (2009)

Well, obviously, whatever impulse may have motivated Ms. Adams, it was a good publicity stunt. She says she wanted her gesture to remain anonymous, but, please, when your seatmate in first class is an ESPN reporter and you take a selfie with the soldier, this is going to get around fast. Far be it from me to begrudge a millionaire actress a little good press, but you don’t want to strain audience credulity too far in the film profession. On the other hand, I don’t cheapen the sacrifice either. Anyone who’s ridden coach lately on an American airline knows that for sheer misery it’s the next thing to standing in an Afghan foxhole.

The more serious problem, for me, is with the gesture itself. At the beginning of our adventure in Afghanistan (and in Iraq, too), soldiers were smiled upon or even applauded as they passed through airports, which was the only contact most civilians ever got with them. This form of approval may be a subconscious means of making amends for the insults that sometimes greeted returning vets from Vietnam, although since most Americans seem unaware we ever had a war there, that theory may be a bit dicey.

More likely, air passengers, perhaps including Ms. Adams herself, feel a vague obligation to support the troops in some way. Since George W. Bush put our wars on our children's credit card, we don’t do it directly out of our pockets (or at least we don’t think we do); since we have a volunteer army recruited largely from the Appalachian-like poor (who seldom show up otherwise at airports), we don’t get many opportunities to show we care.

But what do we care about? The only person in America who still thinks our invasion of Iraq was a good idea is Dick Cheney. Seven in ten Americans think Afghanistan wasn’t worth it either. So, if we really support the troops, shouldn’t we be rallying to bring them all home rather than sending them off again on their umpteenth deployments? And shouldn’t we definitely let President Obama know what we think about the smart idea of sending them back to Iraq again?

The flip side of cheering our troops on is our indifference to them when they do come home. Can’t get a medical appointment at the VA? Welcome to the world of American health care. Can’t find a job when you muster out? Fella, there’s a lot of us looking for work, and what’s your skill set? After World War II, the GI bill sent veterans to college. But I guess you haven’t heard, the government’s out of the business of supporting higher education. You can sign up for a loan, though.

Hollywood stars have always been connected to displays of patriotism, entertaining troops and the like. If Amy Adams were to fly out to Afghanistan, it would no doubt be appreciated. And if she were to fly coach all the way, that would really be something.