Friday, July 11, 2008

Do Lefties Blame Soldiers?

I started to respond to today's post on DeathPower, but it was too long to post on someone else's blog.

DeathPower presents the heartrending statistics on the rates of suicide among Iraqi war vets. Great points and an important issue, but I took issue with his statement that "those on the left without such acquaintances often make the horrible mistake of blaming soldiers for the wars they are sent to fight."

It just ain't so.

It hit a sore point with me because of the kinds of urban legends that go around about the treatment of Vietnam War Vets by civilians and anti-war activists. These are used by the right to demonize the left. In fact, stories of returning soldiers being spit on by hippies are apocryphal (“it happened to the cousin of a friend of mine”). I know quite a few Viet Vets (from both sides!) from my work in SE Asia, and their anger is reserved for government policy (and the VFW in the case of Americans, which wouldn't let Viet Vets join because they weren't vets of a formally-designated foreign war!). The cutbacks on services to returning military began then and continue today.

Anti-Iraq war activists, in fact, have made a significant point of making their opposition about policy and the government and not about those who join and carry out the military mission. Sometimes they're a little elitist in their analysis of why people join, but analysis often sounds elitist because it's about looking at the system as a whole. Anti-war activists today are, I think, riffing off of John Kerry's "Winter Soldier" testimony: "We could come back to this country; we could be quiet; we could hold our silence; we could not tell what went on in Vietnam, but we feel because of what threatens this country, the fact that the crimes threaten it, not reds, and not redcoats but the crimes which we are committing that threaten it, that we have to speak out." He said the war had made him and his fellow vets into criminals at the behest of the government.

In fact, a bigger issue for the left is the way that the government has left vets hanging – cutbacks in GI Bill benefits, lack of access to medical care, and particularly lack of access to quality and consistent mental health care. PTSD shows up among many people who have experienced violent, traumatic events. Psychotherapy can make a huge difference in their lives. Why isn't money put into that?

We can disagree as to whether people should judge a particular government's actions as immoral, but that's not the same as being anti-soldier. We can probably all agree that, regardless of our politics, veterans are mistreated by the government. That was true of Vietnam War Vets and it's true if Middle East War Vets today.


Erik Davis said...

Hi Kate, excellent points, and thanks for writing them. While the main point of my post was not to indict the left (where I live) but to catalog the more or less ignored horror inflicted on soldiers by the DoD and the government's willfull blindness of issues like PTSD (that is, the Right). Still, I did make an offhand, and too-sweeping indictment of the Left (at least, a section of it), and you are correct to address that here.

On the other hand, (and I dealt with this briefly in a response to your comment on my page), those manichean behaviors which treat soldiers as identical to the army, and which prop up a sense of personal morality by condemning the soldiers (overwhelmingly people of color, the poor), still exist in profusion amongst liberals and the left. (these are still, perhaps, somewhat more preferable than those behaviors on the Right which insist that supporting the troops amounts to sending them into greater and greater danger, with no end in sight, and inadequate protection).

As my partner puts it, the people I'm referring to tend to be those who "never had to eat saltines for dinner."

Maximilian C. Forte said...

I am afraid that I might have been the source of this argument, over at this link.

The points/questions I was trying to address, and which many rejected, were twofold: (a) look at what at least some troops are doing in Iraq, and what they are betraying about wider policies that have been, or are, in place (contrary to the "few bad apples" notion; and, (b) why do they join the army, knowing they will probably be sent to Iraq and have to kill in some cases unarmed civilians. If you are aware of that, why don't you consider other options besides enlisting, or are these individuals history's only true victims, without the power to choose? If so, then why do so many choose not to join? These are honest questions, and they upset people, and I can live with the heat. I wish I had some good answers rather than outrage. What I personally don't like is the notion that "the troops" are somehow sacrosanct and above any criticism. If that were to be the case, it should apply just as much to Blackwater soldiers, who, after all, are troops working for the U.S. government at a higher rate of pay. Is it the rate of pay that makes the difference?

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