/A LOVE FOR THE IMAGE OF MILITARY UNIFORMED MEN: How I ask “Where is the Love?” from an article in The Economist

A LOVE FOR THE IMAGE OF MILITARY UNIFORMED MEN: How I ask “Where is the Love?” from an article in The Economist

As I write this piece, I reflect on who in society misses an uncomfortable truth: There are fewer and fewer members of society who serve in the military, and the human cost of veteran readjustment related to post-military service is something that’s overlooked, ignored and even overtly disregarded.

This is problematic, as in the U.S. and Canada, we continue to fight wars throughout the world, and I studied theology, world religions, spirituality, human nature and philosophy as a Dominican Friar monk when I was a younger man … you know … the Roman Catholic Order guys in black and white robes who taught the Jesuit!

As a young man, I studied these subjects at Yale University Divinity School, when I was not playing rugby for the business school or making out with women in the upper reaches of Heaven—the high “stacks” of Yale’s old Sterling Memorial Library.

Let me get to the heart of the matter. At Yale, and as a Dominican Friar, I was exposed to liberation theology. The key authority of liberation theology, Father Gustavo Gutierrez, joined the Dominican Order just as I fully entered it.

What is interesting about liberation theology is the preferential option for the oppressed. In the 1970s and ’80s, liberation theology was used to look at many marginalized communities. It is time now to look at veterans as a marginalized community.

A convenient love affair with the image

Last week, I engaged the topic of how warriors are portrayed onscreen by Hollywood. I want to add that there are many great shows and movies that do not use the image of the veteran as some broken toy of American foreign policy, as does the veteran image in The Economist recently featured as ‘trending’ on Facebook (but part of an article that was written on October 28, 2017).

The ironic article’s title—”America’s Love Affair with Uniformed Men is Problematic”—inspired me to write an article titled “America’s Love Affair with Uniformed Men is CONVENIENTLY FALSE.”

Less than 1 percent (0.5 percent) of American citizens serve in the military, according to a Council on Foreign Relations update this year. Canada’s military personnel has been experiencing shortages in meeting their enlistment quota, according to a National Post piece (January 27, 2016) and also have below 1 percent of the country’s population serving in the military.

The lack of military presence in both countries leads me to present this issue: What’s there to love? Is it the mass-culture presence of the veteran or military troop seen in Super Bowl commercials, or on special-feature reality TV shows?

There are so few military personnel in these all-volunteer forces in Canada and the United States, so what is there to love? The love can potentially be found in the few who raise their hands and make a sacrifice, and are not in it to escape a challenging economy, to attack an enemy or to show off military uniform devices.

Maybe, instead of focusing on a false love for soldiers, the article should point out the convenient love affair society has with the image of uniformed men and women. The article in The Economist tries to assert that the U.S. military is a force that is not attuned to its own identity.

I know why I served and volunteered to deploy during the Iraq Surge, as recruiting quotas were not being met, although I was 40 years old with an almost 20-year break since my last service period.

I knew what I was getting into! I just did not expect society to be so distant from what I—along with a few others—got into during a war overseas.

A forgotten veteran who wants to save children 

Interestingly, the commonly circulated theme that is brought up again and again is the inflated notion of a Band of Brothers HBO series mentality that troops fight just because they belong to a brotherhood.

Troops also fight because they feel it is right to, not just to protect U.S. citizens. Unlike what the article in The Economist projects, troops fight for others. The nasty politics of war has been a part of U.S. history since the Revolutionary War. This does not excuse troops from being critical of their government. Troops are to be critical of government and society.

A respected author, Sebastian Junger, mentioned that veterans desire to return to Iraq to fight ISIS, due to a yearning to return to a brotherhood; troops must be given space and a voice to add to that claim.

I add: I am a forgotten veteran who wants to save children from the wrath of ISIS because it is the right thing to do, and because I feel a higher calling in this, instead of my calling at home in a society that is indifferent to veteran benefits, disability rights, employment, medical care, housing and so on.

This is not to trash Sebastian Junger, because he points out many aspects of truth. I just want to add that there are many veterans who want to enter the fight again because of the forgotten identity veterans have in a society (not just the government) that sent the veteran to war. This is what is lacking in the article in The Economist.

Ironically, at times, the government is not just a war hawk entity. I am not here to defend the government. I need to point out that, ironically, I have seen a few civilian politicians really take a preferential stance on veterans, the new marginalized people in America and Canada.

There are a few politicians who are not accepting the hype that veterans receive a great amount of money and great opportunities in society. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s office was helpful to me regarding my Veterans Affairs (VA) issue. Governor Andrew Cuomo has a great New York state hiring initiative that a friend of mine, Murph, a Persian Gulf War veteran, was able to successfully pursue.

I am not into political parties, but I am into the preferential options these politicians have created for veterans.

Listen to veteran stories

The false claims are ones that have been used against other oppressed groups. Veterans get all the attention—especially Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. How true is this, outside of the mass media circulation of fabricated veteran stories that promote the spectacle of military and veteran presence?

Ever experience a veteran in a housing shelter? How did he or she end up in that situation? Have you heard the voice of a veteran describing medical care at the VA for maladies experienced in war?

If you ever have access, try to take the time to hear the veteran stories in the waiting room of the unemployment office. Ever experience a veteran in a housing shelter? How did he or she end up in that situation? Have you heard the voice of a veteran describing medical care at the VA for maladies experienced in war?

There are many stories circulating in our society. I challenge you to seek the authentic stories of veterans. This might give you an alternative view.

The reasons for joining the military and serving are mixed with clarity and obscurity. A society in war needs to examine the stories of warriors without the spectacle of mass culture. The questions and descriptions provided to society by the warrior after service are part of true democracy.

Using shows, the news and the press to favour political figures is not giving a preferential option to the few warriors with diverse voices about war and home. When it comes to veterans and war, there is always ETC. Simple explanations of veteran readjustment miss out on the human experience of suffering and hope within the veteran life, the veteran life that matters.  

The reality is: Veterans are challenged with unclear housing and employment numbers. The suicide number for veterans is 22 a day, but does this include veterans who died of unclear yet planned substance abuse incidents, accidental deaths and untreated health conditions?

Veterans numbers are so few, and there appears to be a spirituality of care in the veteran community. Veterans seem, in many cases, to care for other veterans.   

As that old Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway song plays in my mind, “Where is the love?” I want to add, “Where is the preferential option?”

This article is part of a weekly column exploring spiritual transformation for veterans. To read the previous article in the series, visit WAR TRAUMA THERAPY: The real war vs. the one playing on TV»

image 1 PixabayPixabay 3 090308-A-4676S-438  by James via Flickr (CC BY 2.0) 4 Southwestern Veterans Center by Pennsylvania DMVA via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)