In our first conversation, Coming Home: Veterans Readjusting to Civilian Life, our contributors — including veterans, family members of veterans and members of organizations that support veterans — share their own stories, offer insights on the challenges facing returning veterans, and provide tips and resources on the kinds of support that families, friends and communities can offer veterans.
It strikes me that more and more these days, the military's leadership seems to want to convince soldiers that they are "warriors," people who are distinct from the rest of society by virtue of their courage and aggressiveness. The goal is to make the soldier more effective at killing the enemy by stoking the psychological fires of combat. But promoting this kind of ideology, along with the amazing technology available to the military today, creates a sort of mythical and futuristic landscape that is more pop fiction than real life. And unfortuntely, encouraging the Warrior concept among soldiers can only exacerbate the gap between soldiers and society.
The United States has no Warrior class. The divisions of power and counterbalances in the Constitution are toxic to a Warrior class. There are, however, elite combat units inside the military that receive mission-centric advanced, special and intensive training; that training might make members of those units have qualities that are typically ascribed to a Warrior. But the soldiers in these elite units receive no more benefits from society than any other soldier who has served in combat. Yes, there are books and motion pictures about these elite units and historical accounts that honor them; many Americans hold the members of these units — and veterans from these units — in high esteem. But with time, all glory fades, and all remembrances become the domain of historians, monuments, documentaries, holidays for more shopping, and those who like to recreate the famous events of past battles.
In photographs, films, pictures and most writings, all society sees, reads, and hears of the soldier in combat is a sideways view. No one can ever experience the tactile and visual reality of combat except the soldier himself. What the soldier experiences, then, and what is in the collective mind of society, may not at all be the same. This difference in perception begins to create the disconnect between the veteran and society when the veteran comes back to civilian life. To add to this the burden, the ill-defined and inappropriate Warrior Concept, which the veteran may have bought into, also creates unrealistic expectations of how society should receive him once he has returned.
It is unlikely that the United States will ever have a Warrior class whose rights and benefits are superior to those of the ordinary citizen soldier. Even inside the combat arms, you are paid for your experience and skills (with rank and designations), and not for being a Warrior. The leadership of the military, who try to use the idea of the Warrior among soldiers, is spreading propaganda, which may result in detriments to the veteran's road in life. The idea of the Warrior is just that — an idea, a mythical one. Trying to apply it to real life, and real soldiers, will only lead to more problems.
Vietnam veteran. On coping with PTSD and lessons from Vietnam.
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