It would have been nice to know as an adolescent that social engineering already conditioned Americans for centuries to pit themselves against one another in every conceivable level of social interaction; high school vs. rival high school, state vs. state, team vs. team, brand vs. brand, etc. and so forth.
To remove abstraction and create clear delineations between two sides is the most efficient way to distract and maintain order. To give room for nuance is to give space for a questioning of systems of oppression. Without shades of gray, blacks and whites crush the other hues.
Understanding why we were, and continue to be, socially conditioned to be such an abrasive people towards one another through sports, entertainment, the media, and our government, is critical for the advancement of the human condition. For the veteran community a simple acknowledgment that such a mechanism of mass distraction exists is simply how to begin a conversation that is irritatingly difficult to have for those navigating the greys.
Traditionally the military has leant extremely far right due to its connections to the military supply chain and intelligence communities, all of which have traditionally had the backing of fiscal conservatives and neo-conservative war hawks. One need only look to the historically conservative stances of the Pentagon, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, military generals, and various other military contracting agencies. Republicans and many Democrats have never met a Boeing, Raytheon, BAE, or Lockheed Martin, contract they have not stood behind. When you combine both of those elements with support for the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, the CIA, the FBI, the NSA, and the plethora of other intentionally publicly evasive intelligence gathering agencies the, trifecta has created the impenetrable military industrial complex that Dwight Eisenhower so brilliantly warned the American public about.
It is already a chore being left leaning in the military to begin with. I imagine the officer ranks would be where most “progressives” would be found because there is well known research that draws a corollary between education and party affiliation. But even if I were to find someone that was closer to my beliefs, I still would be met with resistance.
When I have tried to tell a veteran that I do not care for the Democratic Party or the Republican Party or the Green Party I am met with great confusion. “Well, who do you support then?” Try telling a fellow brother or sister that you don’t support a system that you firmly believe has only allowed parties to exist that serve the same goal of maintaining a system of global economic oppression that systemically harms working class people, specifically people of color all over the world. Few veterans want to hear it. How could you hear it if you have been social engineered to pick a side your entire life and here comes a person that served on the same “team” that doesn’t hold a specific position? If you have debated the black and the white areas of electoral politics, you likely have no reference point for engaging in a discussion in the grey. The grey then becomes foreign. What does the military train you to do to what is foreign to your way of military life? Kill it. Reject it. Disown it. Belittle it. There is no room for a discussion about working class people or people of color in the military. We are too busy killing them.
After I have said to a veteran that the history of modern policing is an extension of protecting slave-owners in the South and commodities and land in the North and thus, a continuation of protecting the interests of the wealthy and the State, most veterans dismiss you and walk the other way, particularly because of the military-to-law-enforcement pipeline. Their father or brother or sister or mother was a law enforcement officer. They will be as well. It’s the honorable thing to do right? It makes sense in their mind that they transition from protecting one group to protecting another. When I tell them that they might have only protected Lockheed contracts or oil profits or Senators pockets and that they may go on to protects wealthy elites’ portfolios, they do not know what to do with that information. So they leave the discussion disgusted, confused, or both.
When I tell veterans that the people that they swore an oath to protect are being brutalized in their own country by the very gear they wore and used, they don’t want to hear it. When I tell veterans the truth about Viet Nam, or the Battle of Bud Dajo, or Antonio Maceo and the Cuban Revolution, or Wounded Knee, or the Second Battle of Wounded Knee, or the truth about the Contra Wars or Operation Ajax, they definitely don’t want to hear it. To dig even deeper into the veteran experience and discuss war and the military industrial complex with the generation senior to me, Viet Nam War veterans, is a grudgingly difficult task. Perhaps this is because of a drastically different experience returning from war. Viet Nam veterans were treated so despicably and dealt with issues that veterans of recent wars cannot fathom, yet the lies from the government and the inhumanity is the same. For both generations. I’ve tried to explain the parallels between the 1960’s and 1970’s and now and have been met with little success, despite the overwhelming glaring similarities. I once even tried to explain that my generation’s Iraq was their generation’s Gulf of Tonkin or Cambodia. Try having a discussion with a Viet Nam War vet about the Winter Soldier hearings or Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
These are topics of discussion that navigate the grey between the current left/right veteran socio-political dichotomy and are a true test of a veteran’s character, likely requiring a very difficult reframing of an experience the veteran had for a significant period of their life. In engaging with a veteran with fundamentally different beliefs about the military, war, the government, and the nation, a person may be asked to question everything familiar to them; their upbringing, their relative that served, their relative that is in law enforcement, a family member that is a civil servant, their current life as a veteran. Such an endeavor will certainly entail an exploration of experiences of war or military service. What was once seen as honorable service could potentially be seen as dishonorable in light of new evidence. To confront everything that is familiar with foreign information and attempt to process a new position or understand a perspective from a perceived threat is a true testament of a person’s fortitude and perhaps, the hardest intellectual challenge a human can face. Like any behavior known to the human brain, we can condition ourselves to change course. That is what I chose to do through research. This does not come without risks though. We are a volatile community, many having witnessed death, familiar with suicide of those nearest to us, victims to substances, and drones to the system we are beholden to. Knowing such carries a great fear of uncertainty of what the outcome of exposure to new information may be. Nevertheless, everyone in this community holds the title of veteran and with it comes an obligation to process and use our experience and the experience of others because the profession of ours is not like that of others. This conversation must be had as grown human beings or this dichotomy disease will be the death of our discourse.
The positive take away from this is that any recognition of a fissure in a system is an opportunity to correct it. There are, perhaps, more issues that we as a community actually agree on rather than disagree, but we are allowing others to frame our conversations for us. The media, whether it takes the form of Hollywood war narratives, or media footage of main street hometown hero parades, or patriotic ultra nationalist messaging in marketing has left little room for a real conversation about the devastating impact of war on veterans, the world, and our country. We let social media goons and media personalities shape the image of a veteran. The Department of Veteran Affairs molds us into what we should be in what they require of us. Literature tells us what we should be. Politicians tell us what real heroes and sacrifice is. Very few veterans actually speak about what a veteran is or what a veteran believes. We simply take other peoples’ talking points on the left and the right and choose a side, not realizing that the very thing we signed a contract to defend gives us the choice and opportunity to not have to pick a side and live in the grey, pursuing a thoughtful and rational relationship with our nation rooted in historical evidence.
Just as in any dichotomous relationship, whether it be a nasty divorce, a school debate, a position paper, etc., a mediator of some sort is often necessary to help both sides understand the nuances of the subject in order to better communicate our differences and similarities. What form this takes could manifest itself in several mediums, be it a community forum, a lecture, a debate, an anthology of political pieces from veterans with divergent view points, or whatever the creative mind can unleash. The only thing that is certain is that maintenance of the status quo will only satisfy one goal; us as a community continuing to bash each other over the head and retreating to our respective corners, dismissing an entire group of our brothers and sisters left to fend for themselves in the grey.