Do American soldiers ever truly EAS?
The end of active service should signal a transition back to a normal life for soldiers moving away from a temporary occupation of killing people and breaking stuff to a more permanent occupation of anything else. Increasingly, however, the average servicemember is having some difficulty shifting gears. The modern cliche of the veteran growing a beard and pumping out military-themed graphic apparel while living off of the GI Bill exists for a reason. I have a few ideas why.
Perpetual war defeats the concept of the citizen soldier
The Vietnam War shattered the concept of the citizen soldier taking up arms only in times of dire need, as well as the notion that all wars are moral defenses of the homeland. After the dissolution of the draft, the war cult was kicked into high gear in order to convince a new generation of young people to fight who were no longer forced to do so. Deceptive recruitment strategies, televised and print propaganda, even paid promotion by sports teams totaling $53 million over the last few years.
This extends to all manner of identity-enforcing trappings in the civilian world: veteran license plates and driver’s licenses, veteran hospitals, veteran-only parking, veteran discounts. Holidays have expanded beyond Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day to include reverence on Independence Day, Patriot Day, even Thanksgiving and Christmas are roped into being a time of remembrance for those unable to be with their families for the holidays for specific war-related reasons. While effective for recruiting efforts, these special treatment aspects create a culture of “otherness” for veterans. Instead of joining the military and becoming a soldier for a few years before returning to normal life, veterans increasingly stay soldiers, maintaining the identity that has now become irrelevant to their current existence, remaining isolated from the non-veteran community.
The promise of privilege, the pain of abandonment
Unfortunately, this isolation has a steep price. Socioeconomically, individuals who stepped into a radically different world during the formative years of their adulthood face much greater challenges finding employment, especially since most have developed skills that may not directly translate into the civilian world, and may have a host of health issues as well. Psychologically, being different from the world at large presents a challenge to developing a healthy sense of belonging. Compound that with the toll taken by witnessing, and being part of, one of the worst aspects of human experience, and you have a group needing more help than usual left with few friends for support. Finally, a culture which propagandizes to the extreme the morality of war leaves its participants without an outlet for processing its horrors, especially in an era of drone bombing, endless foreign interventions, and insurgencies in high civilian population areas. If a veteran feels a sense of guilt or horror from what they have witnessed or they themselves done, who is there to talk to? Civilians won’t get it, and former comrades may not be receptive to discussing something that calls into question the morality of their entire identity. It’s no wonder veteran suicides are so tragically high.
War criminals hide behind human shields, whether they be innocent bodies on the frontlines or conceptual soldiers at home. Veterans are no concept: they’re human beings who pay a very human cost of war. Using a “support the troops” mentality to ignore actual veterans does their sacrifice a great disservice.