Veterans are people, too, my friends
Like you, as a citizen of this great country I’m grateful for the service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform. And, as a veteran myself, I’d like to express our appreciation of your willingness to honor us on a day such as today. But, I’d also like to challenge you.
You see, from my vantage point, far too many of us don’t always see our veterans for what they are: people and world diplomats. The fact is, some — not all, but enough — of us occasionally fall into that hole where veterans are objectified as “…a closet full of guns (and) ammo…“ As if to be pulled out like a lawnmower whenever the grass gets too unruly. But in fact, a key differentiator of our military is their capacity to think, help shape strategy and even carry diplomatic relations on the world stage. Consider the diplomatic roles of esteemed veterans such as Collin Powell, David Petraeus (recent events notwithstanding and which shouldn’t diminish his great contributions), or Army Special Forces Major James Gravrilis. Far from being a closet full of guns and ammo, our veterans perform brilliantly as military diplomats who have independent will and a moral compass that guide their capacity for critical analysis.
“A Closet Full of Guns and Ammo”
A couple of months ago, on the heels of the embassy attack at Benghazi, one of my professional acquaintances publicly expressed his frustrations about that attack in a post on one of the popular social networks. In that rant, he described his home-spun foreign policy of “Overreaction.” And he demanded (in rant-wise fashion) that our elected leaders adopt it. In one paragraph he expressed the following in apparent reference to the citizens of non-American countries (bold highlights are mine for emphasis relevant to this discussion):
“…if we’re gonna be just friends, you need to know something about us. We’re going to overreact. A lot. In ways that you’ll find very extreme. So if you or some of your more excitable lads kill an American, we might go totally overboard and drop a few thousand bombs on your capitol. If that American is an ambassador, we might roll tanks through your cities and start executing anyone wearing your military’s uniform. Then, of course, we’ll leave. We’re dangerous, ignorant Americans after all. We just wanna be left alone, and if not left alone, then we might be really, really unpredictable. And we really might not care that various other countries “condemn” our actions, or pass UN resolutions…“
He goes on like that for a few more paragraphs and closes his rant this way:
“Just think of us as that crazy neighbor…that quiet, keeps-to-himself neighbor with a closet full of guns, ammo by the thousands, and who-knows-what-else. And he might be a little bit unstable from his war experience…
Incredibly, many of his readers (though not all, but sadly many) actually applauded this “policy.”
Contrary to how easily some would classify our veterans as a “…closet full of guns (and) ammo…”, the fact is, our veterans are not trained to be the “John Wayne” or “Rambo” stereotype who stoically obeys orders without question.
In fact, a unique differentiator of our military citizens is their ability to ask relevant questions and critically analyze local events as they carry out those orders. In many (most?) cases, they’ll actually shape the orders themselves.
Don’t get me wrong. I share my acquaintance’s frustrations about our American citizens being attacked any where in the world. I may even applaud the flag-waving nature of his rant. But characterizing our veterans as executors of a policy of “Overreaction” doesn’t honor them.
My hope for today, and on all days after Veterans Day, is that when you see rants such as that above, that you show gratitude for the true contributions of our veterans by reminding such authors — and their readers — that typically when “we” say “we” will “drop a few thousand bombs on (another nation’s) capitol…” and “…roll tanks through (their) cities and start executing (their citizens)…” and “…test some of the thermonuclear ‘stuff’ in our inventory…,” that you remind them that blindly carrying out the wishes of a “crazy neighbor” is not the mission of our service members.
Being belligerent is easy. The hard part — the part for which we should truly thank our veterans — is their capacity for being the human filter behind the trigger. They are the heroes who exercise restraint in their use of force, while critically analyzing and adapting to events even as arm-chair quarterbacks — and their followers — spout ill-conceived home-spun policies of “Overreaction” at all cost.