Want To Respect Veterans? Don’t Patronize Us
Posted by Chris Bowen on July 23, 2013
On my last leave before separating from the Navy in 2003, I came home and, during that time, attended a playoff game for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. My mother, unknown to me, slipped a note to the PA announcer that it was my birthday, and that I was an active service member. Later in the game, as they do during every game, they announced the birthdays. Happy birthday to this kid and that girl and this old guy and at the very end “a special happy birthday to returning Navy Petty Officer Chris Bowen!” I got a standing ovation at a Sound Tigers game, which I could no longer ignore because the camera was on me. Players tapped their sticks on the ice. People who haven’t been in that position imagine it to be something that anyone could possibly want: validation that the long nights, the yelling, and the bullets are worth it.
Frankly, I found it mortifying at the time, and as I’ve gotten older, it’s become even more so. Not because I was suddenly being applauded by thousands of people, but because to me, the whole exercise of thanking veterans for our service has rung hollow. It rings hollow because the whole notion of “thanking” a veteran isn’t born out of sincerity. It’s born out of a carefully constructed ploy to get civilians behind any war that the government advocates.
Every time someone brings up a veteran, or references a veteran, or talks to one, it seemingly must be mentioned that the veteran is thanked for their service, and that they’re heroes, and wonderful people who deserve our highest praise, defending freedom from the bad guys, whoever they are. It’s almost a social requirement at this point; God bless you, God bless America, and God bless our troops.
Except for a lot of people it’s bullshit. They don’t even realize how full of shit they really are.
The worst thing someone can do who’s been enlisted is to read leadership materials; I’m surprised the military hasn’t classified books that discuss how to lead large groups of people, and especially military units. Weather reading about generals of the modern era, generals of the past, or even fiction, one of the key doctrines of military leadership has been the ability to get the civilians to go along with what a government is doing in a time of war. The soldiers will, of course, be cowed; if they don’t, they stand to be locked up or shot. But getting civilians behind the war effort is more delicate; if they’re not, their resistance can serve as a distraction at best and a crusher at worst. The best way to get people involved is to control the crowd, and the best way to accomplish that is to make sure that the local impact is felt. How can you not believe in the war? Timmy’s at war! He’s defending the homeland! Do you want Timmy to die? Entire books have been written, for centuries, on how to get civilians to engage in groupthink in order to feel for little Timmy, or Wolfgang, or Xie Yun or whoever is off to war in defense of whatever motherland they fight for.
Of course, everyone thinks that Timmy is the suburban white kid who goes off on his own to defend freedom because that’s just how it’s done in these parts and his granddaddy was at D-Day and *sniff* he’s just such a wonderful and honest boy. That’s true in a lot of cases, but it ignores those that join the military to have money for college, or even just to have money to eat, what with the economic conditions at home being so dire. It also ignores those that join the military at the behest of the state in what can best be described as a modern draft. One person from Alabama that I served with was told by his judge that it was either the military or jail, and as he put it, “I don’t wanna get fucked in the butt, so here I am”. This was a tremendous turning point in his life – he was a fantastic sailor, a good friend, and is doing well for himself now – but it’s not like he or anyone else in these situations – disproportionately black, poor and from the south – is there because of patriotism.
Let’s also not forget just what the military has done in a lot of cases to stoke that public fire back home. The two most obvious cases are those of Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman. When Pvt. Lynch was rescued from Iraq in 2003, it became riveting news, as the Pentagon blared about the courageous rescue of the brave female fighter from West Virginia who braved interrogation from her tormenters – hey, she’s female and pretty, who knows what they did to her to get her to talk, am I right!? – until a Seal Team came in, killed those dastardly bad guys, and took the broken private out. Just like a movie! Turns out, even Pvt. Lynch – discharged honorably from the Army, having served her purpose – said the whole thing was complete and total bullshit, fabricated by the Pentagon to increase support for the war at home. No one seemed to care about the people that actually died in that firefight2; it was all about the little skinny girl who everyone had to play up as the victim. Then there’s the case of the deceased Cpl. Tillman, who the Army celebrated for dying heroically in the line of fire while charging down a hill and screaming at the evil bad guys who were attacking American freedom. Right away, the Tillman family thought something was wrong (read the whole piece, it’s exceptionally in-depth), and as it turned out, not only was it a case of fratricide, it was covered up fratricide, Gen. Wesley Clark even admitted that it could have been an ordered murder of an ex-NFL player with tremendous value as a propaganda piece who also happened to be a war critic who had a meeting scheduled with Noam Chomsky after his Afghanistan tour. In these two cases, the Untied States military used Nineteen Eighty-Four as an instruction manual.
The same military who would cover up the deaths of their soldiers if it suits the war effort uphold them as paragon examples of the virtue of the American Soldier/Marine/Sailor/Airman, and civilians are only too quick to latch on. Forget that a lot of the time, civilian acquiescence of war is often for purely selfish reasons – contracting jobs, concerns over terrorism, religious xenophobia – based around making their own existences slightly more comfortable. Much of the reason people join the “Support Our Troops” bandwagon is simple peer pressure. No one wants to be ostracized because they were accused of not supporting the war, and by extension wishing ill upon the soldiers fighting it – Why do you want little Timmy to die!? – so they join the parade to make themselves feel better and not to harm their social standing among their peers. It’s incredibly insincere and, from the perspective of a veteran, a bit insulting to my intelligence. If people were really so concerned about veterans, then why won’t they hire them? Or give them a roof over their heads? Or take care of women who are getting raped at alarming rates? Or stop trying to defund Veterans Affairs whenever it’s time to balance the books elsewhere? Civilians love to parrot soldiers when they’re in harms way, but don’t seem to interested in picking up their end of the rope.
December 29th will mark my ten year anniversary of my separation from the United States Navy. In the time that I’ve been a civilian, I’ve made it to no Memorial Day parades, and yet I’ve done extensive charity work for Wounded Warriors, No Vet Left Behind and other veterans advocacy groups. I have also voted for politicians who have put the needs of veterans first. The reason I do this while avoiding the parades and other pomp and circumstance is because commemorations are ultimately just words with pretty floats, and words are empty and meaningless. Action is what matters. The people who employ words to “thank” their precious veterans for their service to America have no real intention to back them up with action, and frankly, I wish they would save those words. They need the oxygen to run down to the local WalMart and take advantage of the white sale on Veterans’ Day.
The irony of lifelong civilians in government jobs spending their government mandated day off going to ring up their discounted goods while being checked out by a veteran in a minimum wage job who doesn’t get those perks will likely be either lost or ignored.
1 – You want to see a politician get whiplash? Let them learn that cutting the defense budget means cutting jobs to their local Northrop-Gruman branch. They’ll come around on that before you can say John McCain.
2 – Does anyone remember Lori Piestewa? Yeah, didn’t think so. And she’s only one of the eleven people who died that day.