What Should We Be Saying to Veterans?

The volume of and impetus for my negative e-mail has changed considerably since the early days of the Iraq War.

During those days I was regularly termed a pacifist, an appeaser, a liberal, a communist, a traitor, an America-hater, a peacenik, a coward, an anti-war weenie, a liberal, a leftist, a Democrat, an isolationist, a hippy, a Quaker, a moron, a s-head, and/or an a-hole because I didn’t support the war and criticized Christians who did.

But as the light of truth was shown on Bush’s lies and the war in Iraq turned out to be such a debacle, support for the war dropped off, as did much of my negative e-mail. I even received some apologies. But since the official end of the war (which, of course, never really ended), one type of negative e-mail I receive has actually increased. I can summarize every one of these e-mails in just four words: “Don’t criticize the troops.” Invading and occupying Iraq, maiming and killing Iraqis, making widows and orphans, making people homeless and refugees, and bombing and destroying Iraqi infrastructure, although U.S. troops did it, did it to a great degree, did it unjustly, and did it unnecessarily—it is not their fault. It is all the fault of the president, the Congress, the politicians, the Joint Chiefs, the Generals—anyone but the troops who actually did the dirty work. The Making of the King... Laurence M. Vance Best Price: $12.88 Buy New $16.89 (as of 04:35 EDT - Details)

Last year I blogged about a group of Iraq and Afghanistan War vets whom I said I didn’t pity and whom I said deserved scorn. Why would I have said such a mean-spirited thing? According to a Washington Post poll, nearly 9 in 10 veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan “say that even considering all they know about the military, they’d still choose to join if they could make the decision again.” Also reported was that “that view wavers little among those who paid a bigger price for their service: 92 percent among those who were seriously injured, 88 percent whose physical health is worse, 79 percent who say the wars are not worth fighting, and even 90 percent who did things in war that made them feel ‘guilty.’” Of those veterans surveyed, 87 percent felt “proud about what they did in the war” and a majority “had a favorably view of George W. Bush.” It is these vets—not all vets—whom I said I didn’t pity and deserved scorn.

I was then told by one Vietnam veteran that I should pity these vets because “before they joined, or were drafted in my case, there was little or no info in our schools, media, or society that presented the reality of war.” You mean they didn’t know anything about the Vietnam War? You mean they never read or saw the movie All Quiet on the Western Front? You mean they never got on the Internet for five minutes? Nevertheless, this Vietnam Veteran concluded: “We don’t deserve scorn. We deserve truth. The wet sidewalk did not cause the rain.” But as I just said, it is the vets referenced in the Washington Post poll who were proud of their service that I said deserved scorn, not all vets. I do, however, agree that veterans deserve truth. That is why I write so much about the evils of war and the military.

I recently made the mistake of blogging about a new book written by a veteran to explain PTSD to his daughter: Why Is Dad So Mad. (Why Is Mom So Mad is in the works.) The subtitle of the book is “A Book about PTSD and Military Families.” What made this same Vietnam Veteran so mad was this statement I made about the book:

Although I have not read the book, I can guarantee that it doesn’t say that dad is mad because he was duped into joining the military, killed people he should not have killed, said things he should not have said, thought things he should not have thought, and went places he should not have gone.

Although I still have not read the book, and don’t intend to read the book, I stand by my statement. This doesn’t mean that the book is a bad book or that it can’t be used to help kids understand that their father’s PTSD is not their fault and that dad is not mad at them. But it does mean just what I said because that was not the purpose of the book.

What made me decide to write some things that we should be saying to veterans was my critic’s closing statement: All Quiet on the Weste... Erich Maria Remarque Best Price: $1.24 Buy New $0.49 (as of 09:25 EDT - Details)

Bashing vets whose lives have become impossibly complicated is not an avenue of approach I agree with. If a vet who is struggling with his role in war is portrayed as a mindless killer responsible for the carnage because he didn’t refuse to go, he very well may take his own life. Are you responsible for some of these deaths? I’m trying to prevent them and spread some understanding to those who can.

So, I am potentially responsible for some veterans committing suicide because I give them the truth that my critic says they deserve?

My question, then, is simply this: What should we be saying to veterans?

But before looking at what we should say to veterans, perhaps we should look at what we shouldn’t say to them.

We shouldn’t thank veterans for their service when their service is something we can do without.

We shouldn’t tell veterans that we don’t fault them for fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan since it is all the fault of the politicians who sent them there.

We shouldn’t thank veterans for keeping us safe when they create more terrorists every time they maim and kill in some foreign country.

We shouldn’t say to veterans that invading and occupying Iraq and Afghanistan was okay since they were just following orders.

We shouldn’t thank veterans for fighting “over there” so we don’t have to fight “over here.”

We shouldn’t thank veterans for defending our freedoms when our freedoms are steadily eroding before our eyes.

We shouldn’t tell veterans that we excuse their bombing, maiming, and killing because we know that they didn’t write their job descriptions or rules of engagement. War, Empire, and the M... Laurence M. Vance Best Price: $9.94 Buy New $9.95 (as of 04:35 EDT - Details)

We shouldn’t tell veterans that they are heroes when they fight in unjust and immoral wars.

We shouldn’t tell veterans that we don’t fault them for joining the military since they couldn’t find a real job.

We shouldn’t tell veterans to not be too concerned about the civilians they killed since they were just collateral damage.

We shouldn’t tell veterans that they are role models for our children when they are anything but.

Okay, then. What should we be saying to veterans?

We should tell veterans that they were engaged in offense not defense.

We should tell veterans that they were helping to carry out an evil and interventionist U.S. foreign policy.

We should tell veterans that the Navy is not a global force for good.

We should tell veterans that killing in an unjust war is murder.

We should tell veterans that they were pawns of an evil U.S. government.

We should tell veterans that they were just part of the president’s personal attack force.

We should tell veterans that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were unjust and unnecessary.

We should tell veterans that U.S. troops who died in Iraq and Afghanistan died in vain and for a lie.

We should tell veterans that invading and occupying Iraq and Afghanistan was immoral. War, Christianity, and... Laurence M. Vance Best Price: $4.80 Buy New $9.95 (as of 04:35 EDT - Details)

We should tell veterans that maiming and killing Iraqis and Afghans was evil.

We should tell veterans that they should be ashamed of their service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We should tell veterans that they are responsible for the death and destruction they caused.

We should tell veterans that wearing a uniform does not absolve them.

We should tell veterans that orders that are immoral—like getting on a plane or a ship to go to Iraq or Afghanistan—should not be followed.

We should tell veterans that they never should have joined the military.

We should tell veterans that serving in the U.S. military is not honorable.

We should tell veterans that they probably wouldn’t suffer from PTSD if they had been fighting a defensive and just war.

We should tell veterans that they should not be proud they served in the Marines.

We should tell veterans that they served Uncle Sam and not the country.

We should tell veterans that their government doesn’t care about them or it wouldn’t send them to fight senseless wars.

In other words, we should tell veterans the truth. Veterans who recognize these things, regret their service, and try to keep others from repeating their mistakes are the real heroes.