Service members and veterans have long borne the burden of the myth of the “dangerous veteran” — so much so in recent years that it’s become a running joke at The Duffel Blog, a satirical military news site.
Today’s New York Times took that trope to a new level, with Kathleen Belew’s implication that US service members and veterans are predisposed to participate in extremist groups, based on this weekend’s tragic shootings by a Vietnam veteran in Kansas.
I hate to break it to Ms. Belew, but the US Army is hardly a haven for men like Frazier Glenn Miller and his ilk.
It’s worth noting that the US military was one of the first institutions in America to desegregate; nearly a decade later, paratroopers from the US Army escorted the “Little Rock Nine” to their first day of racially-integrated school. Today, racial minorities are well-represented within the ranks of the Active-Duty Army, making up 38% of the Active Duty Force (based on FY12 numbers), and a quarter of the Army’s four-star generals.
The military’s basic training process tends to drill racism out of the ranks. Thrown into an environment with recruits from all different backgrounds and clad in the same uniforms, America’s newest Soldiers quickly have to learn to work together to survive basic training. I’ve served over half of my twelve years of service in the former Confederate states—but not once have I seen a Confederate bumper sticker on the back of a Soldier’s vehicle. In fact, the US Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania—just a short drive from Gettysburg—recently came under fire for removing some pieces of artwork depicting Confederate Soldiers. One Army officer even went so far as to suggest rechristening posts named for Confederate officers such as Forts Bragg and Hood.
Make no mistake—if there were extremists in the ranks, commanders would be quick to give them the boot; the Army’s regulations give them plenty of latitude to do so. In fact, that actually happened in the case of Frazier Miller, who was discharged from the military in the late 70s for his extremist ideology. Yet we still refer to Miller as a “veteran”, just as we would someone who left the military under honorable conditions.
Finally, understand that Mr. Miller represents just one of over 20 million veterans in America—roughly the entire population of the state of New York. One person does not make a trend.