Saturday, March 27, 2010

What I Am, What I'm Not

I'm political, but not the way you might think.

I consider myself a social-justice Democrat.  I voted for Obama, I supported health-care reform, I support ending Don't-Ask/Don't-Tell.  I believe we are better as a diverse, inclusive, multicultural society than as one which is homogenous and insular. I support the idea of National Service.  The topic of gun control barely appears on my radar.

I'm antiwar, but not the way you might think.

I understand that certain things are worth fighting and dying for.  I won't call that just, but I'll call it necessary.  At the same time, I feel that we as a culture are entirely too comfortable with the idea of war.  We see grave threats in every tinpot dictatorship; we see World War II in every round of diplomatic sabre-rattling.  We're always sort of looking for the next war, and even then only the ones that people in power tell us to see.

War is a political move, but its consequences are very real.  People get hurt.  People die--innocent people, families even.  Entire cultures are often reduced to squalid poverty by war, and the recovery process can literally take centuries.  And the servicemembers who prosecute those wars often come back changed, sometimes for the worse.  But when they do come back that way, do we show them the compassion and understanding they deserve?

No.  In most cases, we cast them aside like broken toys, or turn a blind eye, as if instructed by some unspoken taboo.

Before you respond with moral outrage at these statements, remember: I have friends who've been reduced to husks by their service.  People treated them like heroes, too, until they showed up with anger problems, or with substance-issues that they couldn't control.  Those friends who gave their all for our country were neglected, mocked, or in some cases kicked out of the service entirely, without ceremony.  For obvious reasons, it makes me angry to see yellow-magnet stickers on SUVs.  It makes me angry to hear soccer-moms talk about the importance of not surrendering "over there."  Those same soccer-moms get uncomfortable when you talk about your friend with PTSD; they make a show of ignoring the homeless vets down on the Basque Block.   Their callousness, their lack of awareness says that our society views war as a hobby, as something we do when we're bored.  And I think our history reflects that.

I get tired of being asked why I haven't watched "The Hurt Locker." I get tired of answering people's questions and not being believed.  I think that we as a culture are numb to war, and until we gain a more serious understanding of military action and its human costs, then I don't believe that we can prosecute a just or effective war, anywhere.  And I'm sorry, but I will not abet the continued ignorance of my countrymen.

In this sense, I am political.  In this sense, I am antiwar.

When I first got out, I was drawn to antiwar protest groups.  I still maintain membership in a few.  But I haven't really protested, in part because of a lack of infrastructure, and in part because of the things I've seen within those groups.  Many are torn apart by infighting, and the protests I see put forward just... don't strike me as effective.  They don't focus on changing the narrative.  And that's a problem for me.

I read pieces from fellow activists, some of them heroes of mine, and the language they use is very politically-charged, very we're-still-fighting-Vietnam.  It only resonates within the echo chamber, and turns away those still unconvinced.  I hear talk of occupations, and illegal orders, and war crimes, and while I agree, I feel that the issue is still treated as black-and-white.  Soldiers aren't all baby-killers, any more than they're heroes beyond reproach.  They're human, and they make mistakes.  And sometimes, the strains are just too much.

But people don't see that.  They don't want nuance.  They don't want consequences.  They want a flag to wave, and a story to make them feel good.

I don't do feel-good.

My opposition to war is very simple: I don't think that we should engage in conflicts abroad to distract from problems at home.  I don't think war should be taken up as a source for profit.  I don't think that war is an answer to diplomatic obstacles.  I would rather see us engage the world and talk, rather than drum up bellicose, patriotic fervor.  I don't trust any war we have to sell.  I got news for you, America: if a war has to be sold to you, then it's probably not worth buying.

I want to speak out.  I do.  I feel that our current wars are unjust, and that my fellow servicemembers and veterans are often abused in modern discourse.  Everyday, their sacrifices are cheapened, their trusts violated by their service branches, their leadership, their government, and by the American public.  But I'm not satisfied that the existing systems for redress are working to change the dialogue.  I watch heroes of mine, fellow war-resisters, burning flags to make a cheap point.   I hear war-supporters question the truthfulness of my accounts.   Everyone's a traitor, everyone's a liar, and when everyone's a liar nobody can lay claim to facts or reason.  

But this war will be won by facts and reason.

I believe that our dependence on pre-emptive war hurts us as a nation, harms our standing in the international community, and harms our servicemembers and their families.  But when I see the fractured, fact-free shouting match that passes for dialogue even within our legislative bodies, I feel like I'm taking part in a discussion that my parents' generation simply failed to finish.  I feel like we're stuck in that old mindset: hippies-vs.-squares.  And when I feel like that, I can only think to myself: 

No. That's not who I am.


Lorraine said...

PTSD information for VA's

Lorraine said...

An article
Forever at War: Veterans’ Everyday Battles with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

"Hundreds of thousands of US veterans are not able to leave the horrors of war on the battlefield. They bring the combat home and re-experience it in their minds each and every day, no matter how much time has passed."

You want people struggling with their time in combat not to feel alone, well I hope reading this article can help them even a little bit.

OpinionSpigot said...

Someone guest posted something similar on my blog awhile ago.

Ruckus said...

Milo, found your blog The Calm Before The Sand and it struck a cord. Had to follow over here for more.
We are of different ages and played grownup war at different times and in different manners. But the words you write sound so familiar. They sound like the words in my head.
I'm glad you made it back and that you made it more or less in one unbroken piece. A lot of folks don't do either.
I'll keep checking back to see what's going on. Good luck and good life.

The Hackademician said...

Long time. Good to see you back at it.

Agree with your points here and am currently working to change the discourse myself, but this dissertation thing is not as easy from the inside as it looks from out.

If you have not done so already you should check out Achilles in Vietnam by Jonathan Shay. His simultaneous analysis of the Iliad alongside case histories from his vets with PTSD is a real eye-opener.

Hope all y'all are staying safe and getting things sorted.