Thursday, June 19, 2008

Military Experience

Veterans are much like the general population, their views cover a broad range.

During a dialogue session, after the movie "The Ground Truth", it was mentioned that some Gulf II (Iraq/Afghanistan) vets said their experience wasn't too bad. I've heard that before, from vets of this and previous wars. I've also heard "the military was the best experience of my life", "I'm proud that I served my country", and regarding Viet Nam "we should go back and finish the job", and "if it wasn't for those protesters, we would have won".

My thoughts:

1. A military experience is what the individual experienced. It is composed of what the individual saw, felt, remembered. It is composed of their preconditioning (life experiences), post information, and the general environment that surrounds the veteran.

2. Most veterans have not experienced combat. This includes veterans who were in a "war zone" during their time in the military. In Viet Nam, for example, about 15% of the military were in combat. Of those, the combat ranged from very light to daily. Of the veterans who were in combat, the trend is - more combat equals less visibility. That is, vets who saw/did more violence tend to disappear from public view. Alaska has the heaviest concentration of VN vet than any state. Many live outside of public view. More combat tends to generate more self-destruction (suicide, alcohol, drugs, domestic violence, homelessness, poor/no employment, no/poor self-esteem).

3. The military experience (combat or not) changes everyone. Some vets cope by burying it, some by glorifying it, and most are in between.

4. Our society is built on the premise that the military is "good". Veteran memorials, veteran highways, the military carries in the flag at sporting events, veterans lead parades, POW-MIA flags, cannons in parks, civil war reenactments, we buy military clothes and weapon "toys" for our children, and the list goes on. To raise the issue that the military is "bad", is "un-American".

For me, the bottom line is violence. I met a VN vet who is now a Buddhist Monk. He was in heavy combat. He wrote a book about his experiences. One thing that he said really struck me - "Peace is not the absence of conflict, it's the absence of violence within conflict". Several years ago I wrote "There is always a way to resolve a conflict peacefully. It may take time. It may take negotiations. It will take skill. It will take intelligence. But there is ALWAYS a way.

"When I discovered that weapons are the USA's #1 export product, I was reminded of Marine Major General Smedley Butler's booklet - "War is a Racket". There is much more I could say . . . . .

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