Opinions do not necessarily represent CUIndependent.com or any of its sponsors.
On Aug. 21, President Trump announced his plan for Afghanistan. After a meeting with military advisers, Trump signed off on a strategy that requires an additional 4,000 U.S. troops be sent to continue efforts in Afghanistan. The president and his advisers concluded that in order to best protect Afghanistan, its people and our American interests, we must hold strong and give support for a while longer.
However, Americans are left questioning exactly what “a while longer” means. This October will mark America’s 16th year since President Bush began Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), a war in Afghanistan that came as retaliation to the 9/11 attacks. Its goal was to find Osama Bin Laden and eliminate Taliban forces. OEF stands as the longest war in American history and has claimed nearly 20,000 American lives with more to come.
America knows war and the Middle East better than any generation before them and although troops and veterans are common household items in America, they are often left unexamined by the public. Often times, the public can’t fully separate the fiction from reality. For most, getting to know a “soldier” is only executed by asking, “Did you go overseas?” in a soft, shy tone of voice as to not offend. Commonly, those questions are followed up with, “Did you kill anyone?” or worse, “I almost joined the Army once.”
You see, people want the facts but they also want to confirm all the taboo parts of military life as seen on T.V. The problem is, people never ask open-ended questions. They never ask, “Why did you…?” over “What did you…?” Missing the opportunity to ask important questions leaves people ignorant and veterans misunderstood.
Society embellishes the military in both good and bad ways, but embellishing leads to skewed perceptions. People who haven’t served, whether they be directors or journalists, are often the people who create and distribute stereotypes of veterans. Because this is true, I can guess the image you see when someone says, “soldier:” a young, white, conservative man from an obscure Midwestern town wearing an ugly digital camouflage pattern. These stereotypes can affect veterans and people’s perceptions of who serves.
An example of this is an article written by David Fagin called, “Becoming a Racist: The Unfortunate Side Effect of Serving Your Country.” In the article, Fagin makes some unfounded assertions about veterans. He writes, “[M]en and women over there return with a new-found hatred for those different from them.” He then follows the statement by connecting post-traumatic stress disorder to racism, calling veterans “broken cowards” and comparing his racist cop uncle to those who have served.
Fagin reduces veterans down to mental trauma, assumes that all veterans are plagued by PTSD and connects the disorder to racism and hate crimes. He only asks “what” over “why” questions. This misguided connection between a selfless sacrifice and societal corruption is both unfair and slanderous towards veterans. There has been absolutely no clinical evidence to show a sole connection between crime and racism and trauma from war. In every demographic there are outliers, but to conflate these two as one is obscene. To see nothing more than a group of racist “broken cowards” disrespects the variance within the military and the individual experiences of those who have served.
Hidden beneath these stereotypes are the facts. In reality, the enlisted active duty army is made up of 47 percent minority races, with 24 percent being black and 16 percent being Hispanic. That means, as a soldier in a platoon of 40, 10 of your closest brothers are black, six are Hispanic and 19 all together are not white. Yet, regardless of any differences you would die for each other, like so many have.
Differences in the military don’t stop at race either. In fact, more active duty soldiers come from California, a notoriously democratic state, than the red states of Georgia, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma combined. As a veteran myself, I assure you that I have never agreed with my brothers twice on any religious, social or political issue. Just the same, we carry many different occupations. Sure, some are expected to be on the front lines, but there are cooks and chaplains just the same. We are not some imagined homogeneous group of knuckle draggers.
It may seem unlikely, but veterans feel discrimination. Often, kids of many different backgrounds who weren’t given the financial resources to build themselves up, seek to rise up one socioeconomic class. They may have never had healthcare, steady homes or the means to become educated, and the military is their quickest route to earning those privileges. The military pays a full-time salary, provides free health and dental care, and offers additional pay for food, housing and dependents. And for veterans, the post-9/11 GI Bill pays 100 percent of school tuition towards a bachelor’s degree, books, supplies and a monthly housing allowance.
Many chose to join the military to better themselves and their families financially. These young kids often give little consideration to the hardships they could face overseas to prepare themselves for the future. Because of this, they give up a section of their youth, safety and comfort to serve the country and achieve army rank pins as they climb up their career ladder. They lead a life and become a part of a culture only other veterans can understand. They develop into adults in ways unique to service members. And when they finally leave the military and begin a new chapter, they can’t truly relate to others around them and it’s both tough and strange.
Veterans don’t care to return home to be lumped into a villainous archetype by people who could never sympathize with their experiences. Veterans don’t want you to assume each of them have mental trauma. In fact, veterans don’t want you to assume anything about them at all. They have enough on their plates. However, they would be grateful if you took the time to get to know them by showing real interest in who they are. Just ask them why.
Contact CU Independent Opinion Staff Writer Harley Powell at email@example.com.