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03-16-04, 08:45 AM #1
Military-Civilian Divide Wider Than Ever
Military-Civilian Divide Wider Than Ever
By David DeBatto
Since I returned from Iraq late last year after serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom with the U.S. Army’s V Corps north of Baghdad, I have had the opportunity to speak with a lot of people from a wide range of backgrounds on the issues of terrorism, homeland security, the military and veterans’ issues.
When speaking with military families, I observed fairly uniform and predictable responses to the issues of national defense, terrorism, support for the military and veteran’s issues. It was when I spoke with people who had no connection with the military that I was struck by the absolute disparity in opinions about the same topics.
It is no surprise that families who have someone serving in the armed forces will look at national security issues differently than families who do not. What was surprising (to me at least) was the overwhelming number of people I spoke with who had absolutely no connection whatsoever to the military. I am talking about people who not only had never served in any military branch themselves, but also had never had any family member or relative serve, nor did they even know anyone who had served.
The only connection these folks had to the American armed forces was watching movies such as “Saving Private Ryan.” They had never really had a conversation with a living, breathing veteran before. Their opinions on the critical issues of our time were based on cable news, news magazines such as Time and Newsweek and the opinions of their teachers or friend. Scary stuff.
Of course, it is no wonder that people who have never experienced, even in peacetime, the rigors of life in the military, cannot view the events of the world through the same eyes of those who help shape those events through military service. They have no frame of reference, no baseline of understanding, from which to judge it.
When such civilians see a crowd of screaming Iraqis in Baghdad with clenched fists in the air calling for the Americans to leave on TV, many perceive it as abused Third World citizens who have become the victims of American imperialism. They do not see the frustration of the American troops in the background who are sweating, keeping watch, ready for a stray shot or RPG round or IED to go off at any moment.
Veterans and current military members, however, see the troops in the background as the ones who have freed these same people from almost thirty years of agony by a murderous dictator who murdered hundreds of thousands of their own family members and plunged their country into poverty and isolation from the rest of the world.
Veterans and current military members look past the images of the Iraqi crowds to see troops who have rebuilt thousands of schools and hospitals in the past year, recruited and trained new Iraqi army and police forces and border patrol, and administered inoculations to tens of thousands of their children and elderly.
Veterans and current military members know that these troops have restored the Iraqi electrical system to a greater output level than existed before the war and delivered the national oil infrastructure intact to the Iraqi people so that today it produces more oil than it has for over a decade – with almost nothing coming to the Americans.
These are the images that a large number of Americans see on their TV screens every night, with those images framed for them by news commentators with a decidedly – how shall I saw this politely – non-conservative point of view.
And here is the real problem: Without someone who has been there and done that to talk to them about what they have just seen, many Americans are becoming more and more alienated from the military, the administration and the country in general. And who could blame them?
Why has this situation occurred? I just read a troubling statistic the other day. Fewer Americans have any connection to the military today (family or acquaintances) than at any time in our history. This means more than the fact that fewer people are carrying the load by serving in the military than ever before.
It also means there is a total disconnect between the vast majority of the American people and the warriors and veterans who are protecting them and have done so in the past. Those who are being protected do not know, and in many cases do not care to know, those who protect them. Real life seems to be imitating Hollywood – in particular the line spoken by Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men”: “We do things that make you sick so that you don’t have to!”
Is it any wonder that these same well-protected Americans could care less about the treatment our veterans get, or for that matter, our wounded Reserve and National Guard soldiers get? What do they care if veterans can’t make ends meet on their disability checks, or pay for their prescriptions, or have to wait months or years for a doctors appointment at the VA, or can’t get into counseling for PTSD that won’t go away after thirty years? Why should they care?
They don’t know anyone in those situations. It doesn’t touch their lives in any way. In any event, they don’t even support the war in Iraq or President Bush’s foreign policy. Their attitude in too many instances is, “This war on terrorism is all just some big hype anyway. Veteran’s Day! Give me a break. It’s just another day off to me.”
I just pray the young men and women of this and the next generations have the good fortune to get to know a member of the military or a veteran. It may be the only chance we have to close the dangerous gap between our military people and the wider civilian community they serve and protect.
Contributing Editor David DeBatto is a retired Army staff sergeant and Counterintelligence Special Agent who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom where he was injured in combat. He is currently writing a novel based upon his military service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Send Feedback responses to email@example.com. Ó 2004 David DeBatto.
03-16-04, 04:29 PM #2
David DeBatto makes lots of sense. A majority of Americans have no connection with the military except for the media's focus or popular movies, which often use the most anti-military people, like Sean Penn, in roles as veterans and combat soldiers. When these same stars make anti-war remarks, the public, which is uneducated in these matters, thinks these "stars" somehow still represent veterans and the military point of view. It couldn't be further from the truth.
Worse yet, is when an unapologetic anti-war demonstrator, who is also a combat veteran, came home and called his fellows veterans "criminals". The public points to the long face, and the photos of the man in Naval uniform on covers of national magazines, and asks the wrong questions, drawing the wrong conclusions.
It is still a war for Hearts and Minds. We can still lose it if we are lax in our vigilance.
Thats how I see it.
03-17-04, 08:08 AM #3
At times like this, it's good to review Kipling:
By Rudyard Kipling
I went into a public-'ouse to get a pint o' beer,
The publican 'e up an' sez, "We serve no red-coats here."
The girls be'ind the bar they laughed an' giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an' to myself sez I:
O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, go away";
But it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play.
I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but 'adn't none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-'alls,
But when it comes to fightin', Lord! they'll shove me in the stalls!
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, wait outside";
But it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide,
The troopship's on the tide, my boys, the troopship's on the tide,
O it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide.
Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.
Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, 'ow's yer soul?"
But it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll.
We aren't no thin red 'eroes, nor we aren't no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An' if sometimes our conduck isn't all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don't grow into plaster saints;
While it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, fall be'ind",
But it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind,
There's trouble in the wind, my boys, there's trouble in the wind,
O it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind.
You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires, an' all:
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country" when the guns begin to shoot;
An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool -- you bet that Tommy sees!
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