Events ensuing from a minor fracas starting around April 16 at Panama Beach City, Florida offer a striking picture of the power of militarism in American society today. They emerged from the clash of two annual events taking place at this otherwise peaceful beachside resort town in Florida’s panhandle: Spring Break for college students and the Warrior Beach Retreat put on by an organization whose membership is restricted to US military veterans wounded in combat.
It is tempting to see the contretemps as something motivated by ideologies and clearly aggravated by the levels of alcohol consumption at least on the part of the collegians, and hardly to be denied as to the veterans, either. Images of well-informed collegians incensed by knowledge of the incalculable costs imposed on America and Americans by the wars conducted through the agency of the veterans and the destruction and atrocities entailed in their undertakings beckon the thoughts of observers at a remove. The affront to the collegians arising from the hyperpatriotic, flag-waving (literally) parade that started at four in the afternoon at the hotel they shared with the veterans is readily imagined from the description and photographs of the parade. The veterans, it turns out, Army of None: Strategi... Best Price: $3.31 Buy New $7.90 (as of 10:30 EST - Details) were staying at the hotel free of charge. If this somehow became known to the full-freight-paying fraternity brothers, it might further have increased their ire.
Meantime, the thoughtful analyst would also relate to the long-suffering veterans, some in wheelchairs, others with missing limbs or impaired faculties, enduring taunts and being spat upon by the spoiled fraternity boys and their dates, who were in the hotel for the Spring Formal of the Emory University and University of Florida chapters of Zeta Beta Tau fraternity. The contrast felt by the veterans, many of whom never attended college, or could not afford expensive Spring Break jaunts or membership in a fraternity, must have been palpable, and would understandably have inflamed any ill-tempered exchanges arising between members of the two groups, all this quite aside from the collegians’ innocence of the rigors of military experience and the woundings afflicting these particular Warriors.
The entire situation is a veritable playground for ideologues, but sustained consideration of the circumstances leads rapidly to the conclusion that the college kids were just being college kids and the veterans found their all-night carousals annoying, if only because the veterans had early-morning activities scheduled such as fishing trips. College kids partying and veterans wanting or needing their sleep. So the veterans complained, at least to the hotel management, and some of them may even have confronted the enemy face-to-face, as veterans of combat might be in the habit of doing. Some accounts relate that some of the college Greeks were evicted from their rooms; whether their planned event was ultimately held is not reported.
The veterans’ report incudes incidents of their members being spat upon by the churlish students. But the vaunted spitting incidents would not have been, as the descriptions allow one to think, a We Who Dared to Say No... Best Price: $2.50 Buy New $14.75 (as of 08:10 EST - Details) matter of face-to-face expectorating. What they leave out, basically, is architecture. The rooms at the Laketown Wharf Resort have balconies, from which the playful or vengeful occupants could, and no doubt did drop all manner of harmless substances upon people below, whom they might or might not have realized were these sainted veterans. Beer was reported to have been spewed from the balconies; whether it had been in anyone’s mouth before launch could not have been apparent to the targets below.
The veterans’ group of course knew that chapters of Zeta Beta Tau were holding their spring formals at the hotel. Suspicions of anti-Semitism might occur to the sensitive observer, and no doubt there were individuals of whom the sentiment might have been true, along with the many other sources of intergroup disaffection. In any event, Warrior Beach Retreat fired off letters to Emory and Florida recounting the blatant “disrespect” displayed by the students, including one incident said to involve urination upon the emblem of our nation, the American flag, thousands of which in all imaginable sizes were present on the occasion of the parade and after it. The soft target of “fraternity boys” must have been irresistible, what with the “campus rape culture” and other popular horror stories making the rounds currently.
The takeaway from this mundane micro-conflict is the uproar that has ensued in the wake of the Warriors’ sparsely detailed allegations of disrespect to the Flag and the heroes who sustained wounds in its defense, among whose beneficiaries, of course, those very college kids were volubly enumerated. College kids traditionally are not noted for displaying respect to anybody, especially in a party setting such as Florida’s Emerald Coast, where thousands of revelers were concentrated on their spring breaks. Check Amazon for Pricing.
The University of Florida precipitously closed down its chapter of Zeta Beta Tau, while certain incriminated members were expelled, not from the university, but from the fraternity. Emory, for its part, took a denialist tack in some ways reminiscent of the paltry defenses permitted defendants at the Nuremberg Tribunals after World War II. That is, Emory did not deny the atrocities that were committed; they merely announced that evidence against their own students was insufficient to justify any disciplinary action on their part against the students or their fraternity.
Zeta Beta Tau, for its part, has issued multiple, abject letters from the chapters and national headquarters expressing “disgust” at any affronts committed and prominently recalling the honorable service to the nation’s military initiatives performed over history by hundreds of the fraternity’s members. No example of such Zebe-turned-soldier has yet emerged in the ranks of Warrior Beach Retreat, but the possibility remains, in theory.
The entire affair underscores chillingly the power America’s wounded warriors and their organizations have to mobilize support and sympathy for themselves, and condemnation and persecution for any others who might in some way have failed to render them the obeisances that are their due as our selfless saviors. The dynamics of the present situation to Vietnam-era veterans, who were happy when spit was all that was “incoming,” must seem especially grotesque.
There will be more of this. The prudent will be respectful to veterans. Especially wounded ones.