Some Thoughts About Veterans
A “How to Guide” for Understanding Veterans
There are a lot of stereotypes that exist in regards to military veterans in the United States. Unfortunately, many of these stereotypes were created and have been driven from what people see on the movie screen or read in the newspaper.
Fewer and fewer Americans have served in the military, and an article from the Pew Research Center from three years ago stated that in 2016 only 7% of adults had ever served in the armed forces, down from 18% in 1980. Not only does this mean that fewer people have served in the military, it means that fewer people know someone who has served in the military.
And yet, stereotypes abound. Military service seems (to some) something that only desperate people have to resort to joining. Worse, they seem to believe that those who serve in the military are war mongers — violent individuals who are blood thirsty and who want to go invade other countries. Many feel that whatever mental illness or injuries that the veterans may acquire along the way are their own fault, and that, when driven to homelessness or suicide, they deserve their fate. They were willing participants in a capitalist imperialist scheme for global supremacy, right?
In the hopes of combating these negative stereotypes, here are, in no particular order, some things that veterans wish that civilians understood about them While I can not speak for all veterans, my experiences and views as a military veteran are not unique.
We Don’t Pick Where We Get Deployed
Contrary to what civilians may think, military members have absolutely no say in where they get deployed. This means that a person may enlist during war time and get deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, or wherever else their specific branch of service sends them. Or they may end up in Germany, Japan, Kansas, Texas, or “anytown” USA.
Most service members, especially those with combat experience, absolutely loathe combat. While they may be skilled and combat effective soldiers, sailors, airmen, or marines, that absolutely does not mean that they relish being shot at, attacked, or hearing and seeing people being killed. They don’t want to spend any more time away from their loved ones, putting their lives in danger, than they have to.
The Generals Don’t Get to Pick Where We Go to War
Again, contrary to what civilians may believe, generals don’t decide where the United States sends its troops. That takes an act of Congress. While the President or Commander in Chief can send members of the armed forces on a military action, they must notify Congress of the action within 48 hours — and even then the troops can only be committed to and remain in an area of conflict for no longer than 60 days, with a further 30 day withdrawal period.
Otherwise, the military action would have to come to a vote — and pass — through a Congressional resolution authorizing war. So in other words, any belief that war-hungry generals can decide where and when to invade is completely erroneous. Civilian oversight of the military through duly elected representatives is one of the hallmarks of American government.
Veterans Are Not a Politically Monolithic Demographic
Believe it or not, not all members or the armed forces are conservative or vote Republican. Many have voted Democrat their whole lives, and there are some who aren’t interested in voting at all.
Nor are all veterans flag-waving patriots, full of amor patria or love of country. Civilians often believe that if a service member goes to war, that they are tacitly, even implicitly, supporting the reasons or agenda of an administration to go to war. This could not be further from the truth. Many veterans may personally feel conflicted and even bitter about being deployed to a combat zone, and may in fact vehemently disagree politically with the reasons behind the military operation. And yet, they are duty bound to go.
In my own personal experience, I was deployed to Iraq — along with thousands of other troops — at the same time that Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. Most troops I knew would rather have been in Louisiana, helping out their fellow Americans, rather than being shot at in the desert or watching people get killed by improvised explosive devices. However, orders are orders. The military is not a democracy. While one can decide not to deploy or follow orders, they risk punishment, imprisonment, and a dishonorable discharge — a status that will follow the veteran for their entire lives.
Not All Veterans Are the Same
Another way to think about veterans is that the experiences that a veteran of the Korean War may have gone through can be markedly different than those of someone who served in the Vietnam War or the war in Afghanistan. The Persian Gulf War of the 90’s has little in common with the invasion of Iraq in the early 2000’s during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The former was a military operation against conventional troops that often played out in the skies over Iraq as Iraqi SCUD missiles were shot down by American Patriot anti-ballistic missiles and troops fought a war against conventional troops, whereas the latter was a years long counter-insurgency operation marred by sectarian violence and that became best known for its casualties resulting from improvised explosive devices — roadside bombs, car bombs, and suicide bombers.
In short, the combat your grandfather or great-grandfather may have gone through in World War II may have little to no similarity with the experiences that a Vietnam veteran may have gone through — and their time while deployed would be different than that of someone who served in Afghanistan.
In short, veterans are one of the single most diverse groups in the United States of America. Not only are they made up of men and women from various socioeconomic backgrounds, ethnicities, races, and religions, they are also an inter-generational group — one with distinct lived experiences and truths. They are deserving of nuanced appreciation because they are not all alike. They are individuals.