We were picking up a friend when I saw a man pushing down a woman. I walked over and managed to pull him off of her. Of course, he wouldn’t leave her alone, a little too much alcohol on board. I told another bystander to call the cops, after asking if she wanted them. I asked because it was Seattle, they were minorities, and I was hesitant to add cops in the mix, especially since I wasn’t sure what would happen next. Would they get the social services they needed? Would it only add to the mass-incarceration problem? In the end, my middle class genes won out, I suppose. A few minutes later, she said to end the call for the cops and thanked me. She left, the man close by.
I bring this up, not to highlight my impotence in the face of complex social symptoms, but because as I was sitting in the library a few days later trying to hack through the jungle of my to-do list and trying to keep my mind focused, one of the activists whom I knew in Spokane shared an article about a trial whereby a white veteran had shot a black man in the back and was acquitted . I was immediately reminded of the racism in that town, a town where the head of the NAACP was discovered to be a white person pretending to be black. This isn’t to say that it’s as bad as the South, but having lived there, it wasn’t hard to see that minorities were generally under attack.
The news also hit home in other ways. As a veteran it was hard to see another one of us implicated in an act of violence. I already know the stereotypes that have been employed against us and how that affects civilian-veteran relationships. That the man was using his “training” as an excuse to shoot someone in the back, someone walking away, was impressive. I never had that kind of training myself. But, more importantly, it was indicative of a specific siege-paranoia prevalent in the civilian world, especially in places like Spokane.
It should come as no surprise that I don’t find the man’s “training” a defense, nor do I find the fact that he was a veteran particularly convincing. I’m not saying it played no part in the shooting, I’m only saying it pushed him further in the direction that our society is already heading.
I’ve written about physical courage before, and our inane obsession with it. Something that results in everyone trying to be a martial hero looking for monsters where there are none—for the one with a hammer, every problem's a nail, and all. And now we have the proliferation of the ideal of the physical courage to shoot others, preferably black and brown bodies, in our streets. In Spokane, for example, almost everyone I met was obsessed with buying and carrying a gun, especially if venturing downtown.
One would hope that after being in real battle zone situations veterans would be the voices of reason, that they would be able to talk down their paranoid brethren. But this hasn’t been the case as many veterans upon returning only seem to want to amplify this phenomenon (“concealed carry is the only way to be safe!”). And even if there are quite a few who stand against that, why does it seem like veterans are so easily co-opted into this siege-paranoia? Certainly racism plays a part—just like the rest of society, the military has its share of racists. Certainly that accounts for the actions of a subsection of veterans, like the white supremacist, James Jackson. 
But there are other factors; some may very well be subconscious. I remember when I first came back from Iraq and many of my fellow soldiers chuckled about how odd it was not to be able to carry our gun everywhere with us, how we reached for it, how it was now an extension of our bodies. It would now seem that this cultural shock—someone once described it as a form of PTSD, how quaint, that—has been circumvented for many soldiers and is now a part of life for many civilians as well.
How this came to be—how this all brewed together with other ingredients in the pot of our society to make this sick stew—and whether this siege paranoia is directly tied to 9-11, forever wars, our returning military, or changing demographics, I cannot be certain. It’s non-trivial, however. In fact, when I wrote about how physical courage was a form of currency that veterans had to use with civilians, or at least a subset of civilians, I assumed that this need to act like a protector, the guard dog—“pit-bull-itus”, as I call it—plays into it. Why ever leave the war zone?
And this isn’t to say that the veteran in Spokane didn’t have a reason to stop, to help out. After all, that’s why I mentioned the situation I found myself in. Now what would have happened had he attacked me? I’m not sure. I don’t carry, but shooting someone in the back as they walk away still seems like the worst choice. Then again, I’m clear-eyed about reality, to include my brown skin, and know that if the races in the Spokane case were switched the jury wouldn’t have come to the same verdict. And I also don’t have that siege-paranoia about the world. I’m still trying to leave the world a better place than I found it.
Nelson Lowhim is a veteran and writer. He is the author of many novels, short stories and essays to include CityMuse, The Struggle, 1000001 American Nights and the Labyrinth of Souls. You can find more about him and his work at nelsonlowhim.blogspot.com