Thank You, Veterans

I wrote this on November 11, and then before I could get a thumbs-up from certain people to post it, life intervened. So, it’s a little late, but still worth saying. As GB Stern said, silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone.

Hello, US Veterans.

Thank you for your service.

Yesterday my dear wife, Lioness, led an impassioned service in which she kinda told off my congregation (which is sometimes a preacher’s job). Many of our members pretty much imprinted their interactions with all things military in the sixties, and have unresolved issues around the fact that violence is sometimes necessary, and all the complexity and social structure which arises from that simple fact. We may say that we support the human beings who serve in our military, and we may mean it sincerely with our forebrains, but when our hindbrains have reservations, it shows in the body language, the uncomfortable facial expression, the awkward conversational pause where they don’t know what to say to someone who says, “I’m serving in the military”. And then military members don’t feel welcome.

This is strikingly similar to congregations which want to be inclusive of TLBG people, but who haven’t done the groundwork to do it right, to know what phrasings are freighted with baggage, to get comfortable enough that they don’t unconsciously wipe their hands after shaking yours. Sure, they say they welcome you, and they want to welcome you — but they haven’t cleaned up enough of the garbage in the yard to be able to welcome you.

People who serve in the military put their lives, their physical health, and their sanity on the line. Some come out smelling like roses, full of success stories and fervor. Some get a raw deal and come out bitter. Some come out broken. Some come out in a coffin, or not at all.

Some volunteer for better reasons than others. Their reasons don’t change the fact that they have volunteered.

Sometimes people forget that one of the risks service members assume, among all the others, is the risk that they will bleed, suffer, and die for a bad policy decision, or an unnecessary war. Service is largely a binary choice. Once you take the oath, you don’t get to dictate how it’s fulfilled. You can’t win a firefight democratically. You have to take orders. One of the subtle, pervasive risks of armed conflict is that it accustoms societies to hierarchical organizations and reflexive obedience to orders, two things which are very dangerous because of their tendency to magnify the impacts of bad decisions.

During and after the Vietnam era, one thing Americans did very, very poorly was to fail to separate American foreign policy, which thoughtful people of good conscience could reasonably condemn, from the service members who implemented that policy. This was an especially egregious mistake, much more ethically questionable, when so many of our service members were coerced by the draft, being volunteers only in the sense that, having been drafted, they chose active service instead of prison.

You may agree with their decision to serve. You may not agree. You may be like the many, many, military families who taught their children that they had an obligation to step up and then were profoundly grateful when those children were rejected for military service. Choices like these can be difficult and complicated.

My grandfather served in World War II, but he was personally lucky: he was an educated professional who was older than the average volunteer, and so he ended up stateside, teaching radio operators. The rest of my family was very lucky, all born too young or too old to be required to serve. No one chose to, and I didn’t have that modeled for me.

It’s probably good, for me individually, that I didn’t serve. When I was young enough, I don’t think I’d have made a good soldier, or come out well. I didn’t have military service modeled for me, and I grew up during Vietnam and post-Vietnam, raised to a large extent as a pacifist (which brought its own garbage that I had to work through). Now, of course, I’m too old and too transsexual for them to take me. Like the families whose kids were found unfit, my family can be grateful for that, because after I grew up enough I came to feel an obligation to serve, myself.

So, it’s Veterans’ Day. I’m not going to tell anyone how to feel. But I know how I feel.

I feel profoundly grateful to the human beings who stepped up to keep me and mine safe.

Grace

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38 Responses to Thank You, Veterans

  1. 1
    marmalade says:

    Beautiful piece. Thank you.

  2. 2
    Doug S. says:

    ::applauds::

  3. 3
    Mandolin says:

    *shrug* Working in the military is a balancing act, in which you’re going to be accomplishing some good and you’ll also be participating in institutional problems. And I imagine we’ll differ here, but so is working for the police.

    This isn’t a condemnation thing. This is a “we live in a complicated world” thing. There are like 100 things I do every day that balance accomplishing some good and participating in institutional problems.

    Grateful to veterans? Sure. But also grateful to lots of other people who don’t get talked about. And anyway, I’m more grateful to individual veterans (even ones I don’t know) than to a massed, abstract, objectified idea of veterans, a kind of distorted jingoistic meme about veterans, that relates little to actual people, and the holiday usually seems to be about the latter.

    I mean, I’m grateful to police officers, too. I’m grateful to you. You seem, as far as I can tell, like an awesome police officer. But I would be uncomfortable with a mass effort to honor an abstract, objectified idea of the police that relates to memes that are used to propagate, for instance, institutional racism.

    When I read this post, I feel kind of icky. And I think that’s primarily because of this line: “Many of our members pretty much imprinted their interactions with all things military in the sixties, and have unresolved issues around the fact that violence is sometimes necessary, and all the complexity and social structure which arises from that simple fact.” Which is super dismissive, and seems more like you’re interested in creating strawmen of people who hold somewhat different positions than you do (and I think this is an issue on which positions are likely to be points on a spectrum, rather than binary), rather than reacting to their arguments.

  4. 4
    nm says:

    I’m not so sure that Vietnam-era protesters were all that bad about separating opposition to the war from concern for the soldiers serving. I was at enough marches where there were (hand-made, personal) signs saying “Support The Troops — Bring Them Home,” and I heard enough songs like “Bring Them Back Alive,” to be clear that “we” weren’t “against the soldiers.” I know that people who supported the war routinely accused us of that, but they also routinely accused us of being Commies, and that wasn’t true either.

  5. 5
    Robert says:

    “they also routinely accused us of being Commies, and that wasn’t true either”

    Yes it was; at least some of you were. SDS was anti-communist from the left, but WSA/PLP was commie-ish; RYM and RYM-II were communist outright.

    Three shiny buttons to anybody who can decrypt those TLAs without looking them up. No cheating!

  6. 6
    alex says:

    This honestly makes me want to puke. Did Ampersand sign off on this shit?

    [Moderator's comment: Oh, come on. At least pretend to try and stick with the moderation policy. --Amp]

  7. 7
    Hector_St_Clare says:

    Robert,

    Students for a Democractic Society, worker student alliance, Progressive Labor Party, Revolutionary Youth Movement

  8. 8
    Robert says:

    Damn, now I have to shine three buttons.

  9. 9
    Robert says:

    On a more on-topic note, I very much appreciate Mandolin’s honest but respectful rejoinder, as I appreciate Grace’s heartfelt original post. I am glad to see two people disagreeing somewhat, but doing it while centering the humanity of the other person.

    My grandfather served in the Army during WWII; family legend has him sitting on a ship somewhere in the Pacific in the runup to what would have been the invasion of Japan. True, he was a mail clerk, but mail clerks get shot too. My mother hadn’t been born yet, so retrospectively the peril faced by those men is my own existential peril. Right or wrong in the global cause, those men and women chose to do what they saw as defending their nation; the common soldier of all sides deserves some respect for their humanity and deference for any differences of opinion. There are and were some bad guys out there, but we need not name them or agree on their identities to believe that people who decide to shield their neighbors from perceived evil are doing something worth valorizing.

  10. 10
    Tindra says:

    …and Thank You, Grace, for keeping an eye on the homefront so we have a home to return to.

  11. 11
    alex says:

    Really? Well I guess that’s a big yes. You may find #6 super offensive, but I had the courtesy of assuming Grace’s opinions are a product of conscious thought. This nasty piece of work doesn’t even wait one paragraph before segueing from veterans to current service members, and getting on with what’s clearly the principle task of patronising peaceniks: “imprinted”, “unresolved issues”, “hindbrains”, “baggage”, “cleaned up enough of the garbage”. Classy.

  12. 12
    nm says:

    Robert, the proportion of anti-war protesters who were part of the RYM or PLP was minuscule. By the time of the largest protests, with the greatest support, even SDS members were a tiny minority. And most of the opposition to the war came from people with friends, fellow-students, and family members who were getting shot at for pretty pointless reasons, so we didn’t exactly hate the troops. The idea that we did is a political talking-point that escaped into the wild.

  13. 13
    Grace Annam says:

    alex:

    This honestly makes me want to puke.

    You have my sympathy. I hate feeling nauseous, and always feel at least a little better after I throw up. Please throw up elsewhere and then return when you’ve cleaned up, so that you don’t get any [more] of your bile on this discussion.

    I had the courtesy of assuming Grace’s opinions are a product of conscious thought.

    Alex, that’s an ad hominem attack. Please attack the argument, not the author. And by “please” I mean “If your next comment is not solidly within the moderation guidelines for this site, you will be banned from this thread.”

    This nasty piece of work doesn’t even wait one paragraph before segueing from veterans to current service members, and getting on with what’s clearly the principle task of patronising peaceniks: “imprinted”, “unresolved issues”, “hindbrains”, “baggage”, “cleaned up enough of the garbage”. Classy.

    Read for content. I’m not clear on what you’re saying, here. Are you calling me a patronising peacenik, in response to a post where I have asserted the sometime necessity of violence, and people who make violence happen, and then go on to thank those people, and bemoan the fact that my congregation does not seem to be able to make them feel welcome? When you read “garbage”, did you understand that I was being metaphorical in referring to … wait. I just figured it out. When I wrote “Many of our members pretty much imprinted…”, did you think I was referring to “service members”, when actually I was referring to members of the congregation I mentioned in the previous sentence?

    Please re-read for content and let us know, while staying within the moderation guidelines.

    Grace

    [edited to correct a grammar typo]

  14. 14
    Copyleft says:

    Lots of people choose to work at dangerous jobs–on fishing boats, oil rigs, coal mines, etc. I suppose I’m vaguely ‘grateful’ to them for participating in our economy and supporting our infrastructure, but I don’t really get why I’m supposed to grovel at the feet of those who signed up to specialize in killing people.

    And before anyone offers the ‘defending our country’ argument… when was the last time the military was deployed to actually defend our country? You’d be hard pressed to come up with an example more recent than WW2. Sure, there are people who sign up with noble and patriotic intent–but that’s not what they actually wind up doing. Am I supposed to admire people who fell for a sales pitch?

    I reserve my admiration for heroes. And heroes are people who save lives, not those who take them. On Veteran’s Day, stop by a fire station and thank some people who truly deserve our respect and applause.

  15. 15
    Hector_St_Clare says:

    Re: And before anyone offers the ‘defending our country’ argument… when was the last time the military was deployed to actually defend our country? You’d be hard pressed to come up with an example more recent than WW2.

    There are a lot of U.S. military interventions I strongly disapprove of (had I been around in the 1970s, I’d absolutely have been cheering for the North Vietnamese, and I think most of our military interventions in Latin America were pure evil), but for the most part, the U.S. military has been fighting on the right side since 2001.

    Our enemies in Afghanistan are evil, and represent the antithesis of civilisation. I’m happy to thank anyone who’s been putting their life on the line to fight them.

    Maybe you don’t think keeping the advocates of ‘Pashtunwali’ and Salafi Islam out of power is a heroic cause, but I do.

  16. 16
    JutGory says:

    Copyleft:

    And before anyone offers the ‘defending our country’ argument… when was the last time the military was deployed to actually defend our country?

    I agree. There is often a knee-jerk reaction to suggest that every military action is in defense of our freedom (as opposed to serving our interests). The military has not been used to defend the homeland in a long time.

    Nonetheless, notwithstanding any (many?) bad apples out there, even if the military has not been essential to defend an attack from a foreign country in a long time, it is a noble (selfless, maybe) act to serve your country, to risk death not for your own interests (like many in dangerous jobs do), but for the good of a civilized society. Same goes for police. Many can be bad, but they get shot at so I don’t have to be. Firefighters, too. They risk death in order to protect us. They all serve, and that is a noble thing that should be appreciated.

    Copyleft:

    And heroes are people who save lives, not those who take them.

    Can’t you do both? I think that was part of Grace’s point. Sometimes violence is necessary.

    -Jut

  17. 17
    alex says:

    Grace. It is not remotely an ad hominem when I say your opinions are a product of conscious thought, because it’s not an attack – it’s a courtesy. When you say people have “imprinted” stuff, and have “unresolved issues”, and are using their “hindbrains” – that is an ad hominem. A particularly distasteful one when what you’re referencing, but go to so much effort to elide, is a very rational aversion for all the mass murder, rape and torture that went on. So off you high horse, please.

  18. 18
    Mandolin says:

    I also feel like any respect I owe USA veterans, I owe all veterans from all countries.

    I respect the experiences of my father’s high school history teacher who was forced to fight for the Nazis when he was 13.

    I respect the experiences of my ex-boyfriend’s grandather who helped liberate a concentration camp and lost the vision in one of his eyes when it was shot out. (He pushed it back into his socket, but couldn’t see.)

    On the other hand, I don’t have so much respect for the experiences of my ex-boyfriend’s friend who we showed around the bay area once and who joked about making necklaces of Iraqi skulls? But I imagine he was probably trying to find a way to contextualize and cope with trauma? I hope so? He may be a much better person now.

    I dunno. Complex, for me. But if I am grateful to an American soldier for trying to protect his people, I must be grateful to an Iraqi soldier who does the same. Assuming we’re talking about ordered troops here, who have little or no control over policy. Do I then have to respect the German troops in WWII? I think so. They endured terrible things. I don’t respect what they were fighting for, but then our country has done things that I don’t respect what they were fighting for. And I don’t respect the ones who rape and kill and pillage, or who think the Jews need some good killing…

    In the Rwandan genocide, surely some of those who killed thought that they were protecting their people?

    And American soldiers certainly thought they were protecting the country from the indigenous Americans when we slaughtered them. Do I respect those who drove the trail of tears?

    If I do grant respect to all, then I am granting respect regardless of what the action entails. If I don’t, then I must judge what the morals are of a war before I can grant it. I expect the right position is somewhere in between these.

    I just. Meh. It seems like such a complicated thing to reduce to one dimension. It seems very complex and specific to me.

  19. 19
    Mandolin says:

    When you say people have “imprinted” stuff, and have “unresolved issues”, and are using their “hindbrains” – that is an ad hominem.

    Although I don’t agree with the language alex is using or all of his other points, I have to say I felt this way about that line, too.

  20. 20
    Mandolin says:

    Gah, sorry, i hate multi-posting, but I should have said “his or her” or better yet used a neutral and not assumed male gender (or better yet, binary gender at all).

  21. 21
    RonF says:

    had I been around in the 1970s, I’d absolutely have been cheering for the North Vietnamese,

    I was around in the ’70′s. I demonstrated against the Vietnam War. I got tear-gassed and chased by the cops in Boston and booed Tricky Dick at Nixon’s 2nd inauguration. I wanted us the hell out. But I sure wasn’t cheering for the North Vietnamese, and I thought then that Jane Fonda was a disgrace.

  22. I too found the use of imprinting as a metaphor troubling, but I also don’t think Grace is at that moment, as Alex (I think) put it, “patronizing peaceniks” as much as she is noting how the reflexive antipathy felt by some members of her congregation for the military prevents them from seeing and treating as fellow human beings the people among them who serve/have served in the military. I realize the post ends up in a different place, with Grace talking about her own feelings of gratitude towards the individual human beings who choose to serve, and I agree that the imprinting metaphor sort fogs up her original point, but it is also not a fair reading of the post to forget where she starts.

  23. 23
    Grace Annam says:

    Popping in to say that although I have been reading all posts, between other responsibilities and an emergency call-in from work, I have not had the chance to put enough thought into responding as much as I had hoped. Tonight is TDoR, and it’s my first since being out publicly, and I’m part of the service, so it’s pretty likely I won’t be in a frame of mind to engage in this thread until tomorrow, at the earliest.

    But thank you, most of you, for your contributions, and I am thinking about all of them.

    Grace

  24. 24
    Grace Annam says:

    Well, TDoR went well, so here I am.

    Mandolin:

    *shrug* Working in the military is a balancing act, in which you’re going to be accomplishing some good and you’ll also be participating in institutional problems. And I imagine we’ll differ here, but so is working for the police.

    You imagine that I would disagree that working as a police officer means participating in the institutional problems present in police organizations? Why on earth would you imagine that?

    Grateful to veterans? Sure. But also grateful to lots of other people who don’t get talked about.

    Sure, likewise. But I happened to be thinking about veterans, and did not regard it as necessary to add the caveat that I am also grateful to other people, for other reasons. On other occasions, I thank other people who do things I appreciate. Mostly I do it individually, because that has more value, I think, but sometimes I do it like this.

    Maybe next year on May 15 someone who writes here will say “Thank you” to police officers. If so, it won’t be me; it’s not my place.

    Copyleft mentioned firefighters, and I agree. They deserve our thanks, too. Thank a firefighter, by all means. Do it any day, and if you like, do it on their day: the first Sunday in October.

    Which is super dismissive, and seems more like you’re interested in creating strawmen of people who hold somewhat different positions than you do (and I think this is an issue on which positions are likely to be points on a spectrum, rather than binary), rather than reacting to their arguments.

    Well, it’s a group of people I choose to interact with very frequently, often more than once a week. Being an introvert, I’m choosy about how I spend my interactive time, so the fact that I choose to spend it with these people speaks to my opinion of them in a pretty concrete way. I qualified my statement (“many”), and while you could not know this for certain, you could reasonably suppose that I based it on actual experience with these people.

    I have many conversations ongoing in this group. I touched briefly on one of them, namely, the demonstrated discomfort some of them have shown around military people. Part of that conversation has been to ask why we only have one, single veteran in a congregation of around a hundred people. I think I found an important part of the answer in a story told to us by a military family who visited our congregation and elected not to return, not because of anything we said formally, but because of the non-verbal reactions when they said they were in the military. I alluded to this in the paragraph which begins “This is strikingly similar”.

    But I didn’t go into it in detail (and don’t intend to, any further than this) for several reasons, not least of which that my main thesis was “Thank you, veterans”, with elaborations from my own experience to acknowledge some of the complexities which inhere to a thought which, presented that simply, might seem facile.

    Mandolin, since I respect your thought and writing, I’m working hard to understand where your comment is coming from. You lead with a shrug and accuse me of strawmanning people I respect. I’m not sure what to make of that, except to suspect that there’s some interesting life experience there, and that you’re bringing to this conversation some history and understanding which I don’t know about. Which is fine; it just makes it a steeper climb for me.

    nm:

    I was at enough marches where there were (hand-made, personal) signs saying “Support The Troops — Bring Them Home,” and I heard enough songs like “Bring Them Back Alive,” to be clear that “we” weren’t “against the soldiers.”

    I am certain that’s true. My mom has mentioned just that sort of thing from her experiences of those years.

    I’ve also talked to Vietnam veterans who have articulated to me that they did not feel welcome, on return. The reasons are many, and individual. Some have told me they were denied membership in the VFW or American Legion. Some talk about the silence – how they came home with a load of experience and trauma and no one talked about it, or if they did it certainly wasn’t in a way they experienced as supportive.

    I think this speaks to my point. I have no doubt that some members of my congregation were carrying the very signs you’re talking about. At the same time, some of them do seem to have this trouble engaging with veterans without a sense of drawing back, and I think that’s a pity, because I know good people who are veterans. (And yes, I know some veterans whom I don’t think highly of. It’s a diverse group of people.)

    Tindra:

    …and Thank You, Grace, for keeping an eye on the homefront so we have a home to return to.

    You’re welcome, Tindra, and thank you for the acknowledgement. For this thread, though, I’d rather stay focused on military veterans. Thank you for your service.

    Copyleft:

    …I don’t really get why I’m supposed to grovel at the feet of those who signed up to specialize in killing people.

    It’s plain that “Thank you” is not grovelling. It should be even more plain, since I said it explicitly, that I wasn’t telling anyone else how to feel.

    Mandolin:

    It seems like such a complicated thing to reduce to one dimension. It seems very complex and specific to me.

    Certainly, if you drill down. But when I am not required to judge, it does me no harm to do someone the courtesy of assuming that their service was a worthwhile thing, and express appreciation for it. I’m not advocating for any sort of free pass — I’ve arrested veterans who committed crimes and I treat them with the same courtesy I extent to non-veterans. I’m talking about something less valuable than a cup of coffee, economically, but worthwhile nonetheless: simple expressed gratitude.

    And, I’m expressing my gratitude. Yours is up to you to assign. Obviously.

    Richard:

    I too found the use of imprinting as a metaphor troubling…

    Hm. I have used that metaphor (though perhaps not here) in reference to my own formative-experiences-laid-down-in-childhood. Likewise, in other contexts I use “hindbrain” (as the part of the brain which tends to be quick to react and can be trained with difficulty) and “forebrain” (as the slower part of the brain capable of reasoning and complex problem-solving) as useful metaphors when I am training police officers to understand the nature of training and how human bodies and brains function and react under extreme stress. For me, these don’t appear to have the negative connotations they do for you and others who have responded in this thread. Thank you for the feedback. I’ll try to re-shelve those phrases with “handle with care, and use only with more context”.

    she is noting how the reflexive antipathy felt by some members of her congregation for the military prevents them from seeing and treating as fellow human beings the people among them who serve/have served in the military.

    Bingo. My metaphors may have been a bit hyperbolic, but I think that’s a tendency of metaphors generally; they’re at attempt to cast in high relief something which is, described in utilitarian terms, harder to discern. In this case, I may have misjudged how literally they would be received. Or, perhaps you are outliers. But if so, you’re outliers I respect, so that gives me food for thought. Thanks again.

    Grace

  25. 25
    Tindra says:

    Copyleft and others who bring up the “US Military is not defending the US”:

    Yes and no.

    Yes, a significant portion of US Military actions are addressing issues that don’t directly affect US National Security. And some of those actions may have been about business interests. However, conflict anywhere in the world has the potential to grow, or affect our allies, or do any of a thousand other things that will affect US National Security.

    Additionally, why do you think that the only successful attacks on this still very young nation of ours have been nontraditional? Maybe it is because our Service Members have proven that they own the battlefield, they have a rank structure that keeps chopping off the head from being an effective strategy, they have the best equipment… the list goes on and on. There is a reason that when it comes to Defense Industry, the best answer is to buy American. There is a reason that thousands of military members from all over the globe attend US Military schools and Service Academies.

    So, the same things that cause lots of frustrations about the US Military are the same things that make it the best in the world.

  26. 26
    Copyleft says:

    Why do people say “we have the best military in the world” like it’s an accomplishment, rather than a huge admission of fear and waste?

    How many times have our allies, and even our own citizens, openly stated that “European nations can afford to spend money on their own people because they know we’re paying the bills to defend them”? That’s not a red badge of courage, it’s a dunce cap.

  27. Grace,

    I think the the ways you talk about using the “imprinting” metaphor in your last comment—talking about childhood experiences and training police officers—are very different from the way you used it in talking about the members of your church. In each of those two cases, the essentializing aspect of imprinting makes a logical, practical, thumbnail sketch kind of sense. I don’t think anyone would argue against the idea that childhood experiences can “imprint” us, if only because we don’t have the cognitive, intellectual, or emotional maturity/perspective/experience to process those experiences any other way. Similarly, when training police officers to deal with immediate, practical situations, it can make sense to talk in essentializing-like terms about how the human body reacts because it is, in part, the reaction to which you are training the officers to respond, not necessarily where the reaction is coming from. When you use the term “imprinting” in relation to the members of your church, however, and their reflexive antipathy to the servicemen and women in your congregation, the essentializing aspect of the word feels very wrong. I might agree that these people’s reactions to individual people in the military have the look and feel of imprinting, but their aversion to all things military—and hence their discomfort with military men and women—is most likely not something they came to unthinkingly. (There might be all kinds of problems with their thinking, but that is another question.)

  28. 28
    nm says:

    I’ve also talked to Vietnam veterans who have articulated to me that they did not feel welcome, on return. The reasons are many, and individual. Some have told me they were denied membership in the VFW or American Legion. Some talk about the silence – how they came home with a load of experience and trauma and no one talked about it, or if they did it certainly wasn’t in a way they experienced as supportive.

    You know, this rings true to me, but I don’t think it supports your larger argument about opposition to the Vietnam War leading to hostility to veterans/members of the armed forces. My impression* is that a lot of the older veterans despised the Vietnam vets as “dirty hippies” — to an extent, they dumped the veterans in with the protesters. (Since most of the returning soldiers I knew at that time were in VVAW, I would say that they weren’t wrong, except that most Vietnam-era vets didn’t join VVAW. So denying membership to VFW was old farts resenting youngsters, but wasn’t because of opposition to the war; most VFW posts were very gung-ho in favor of the war.

    But the silence thing. My father’s generation of men was silent. All that “Greatest Generation” hooey about how they went to war and came home and didn’t complain boils down to the fact that they didn’t talk about their reactions to anything. Certainly not their war. My father never spoke about his experiences in the war until 1997. My father-in-law, who came home with medals for distinguished service, didn’t tell his kids what they were for until a couple of years ago. So, you know, the older generation thought the kids coming home from Vietnam were wusses for wanting to talk about what they’d been through. And the rest of us were willing to listen, but had no knowledge of how to talk about anyone’s war experiences, and a lot of us did it very badly, or at least in ways that I’m sure weren’t helpful. But I don’t think it came out of confusing bad policy and the soldiers who were sent to carry that policy out.

    *which is vague and probably faulty; I was the daughter of a WWII vet, and pretty near all my friends (at the time of my involvement in protests against the Vietnam War) were the children of WWII vets, but my father and my friends’ fathers weren’t involved in VFW at all. This has to do with class, certainly, but also with location. We were in a city, and I think former service organizations were less important there for everyone than was the case in rural, small town, or suburban areas.

  29. 29
    Robert says:

    “Why do people say “we have the best military in the world” like it’s an accomplishment, rather than a huge admission of fear and waste?”

    Because it’s an accomplishment. Getting good at something, even if that something is on occasion distressing to the sensibilities of others, is an achievement. Breaking shit and killing people in an evil cause is nothing to be proud of – quite the contrary. But neither is skillfully climbing a mountain in order to murder the orphans living at the peak something to be proud of; it is skill, resolve, and dedication that are admirable in and of themselves.

    It’s well worth considering whether the skill, resolve, and dedication are going to be deployed in the service of something that conforms to what one thinks of as “the good”. But it’s never worth deciding that skill, resolve and dedication are worthless, simply because sometimes people are called to wicked banners or deploy their talents against the good.

    “How many times have our allies, and even our own citizens, openly stated that “European nations can afford to spend money on their own people because they know we’re paying the bills to defend them”? That’s not a red badge of courage, it’s a dunce cap.”

    Or competitive advantage, or even prudent forethought. The Germans are very, very good at forming militaries. They have been historically less talented at deciding what to do with them. It may have been a rational choice to say “you guys relax a bit, make some good cars. We’ll keep an eye on Ivan for a bit.”

    Besides, they (and we) have the money to take care of their people because capitalist countries, even cheese-fetish peacenik capitalist countries like France, are rich as fuck, not because of their low military spending. The US spends 4.7% of GDP on military outlays (including the wars). That’s a ton of money in absolute terms, but not a huge share of the economy by historical or even by modern standards; spending as percentage of GDP has been in a gradual decline for six decades and counting. Broadly the same thing is true of Europe, except that their GDP number is lower; 1.7%. The difference comes to about $400B all told, and I’ll admit that isn’t chump change. But in turn you’ll have to admit that that’s only $1300 per American, and $1300 per head is not going to make us a European welfare state. We could spend $1300 per head on video games.

  30. 30
    Mandolin says:

    I might agree that these people’s reactions to individual people in the military have the look and feel of imprinting, but their aversion to all things military—and hence their discomfort with military men and women—is most likely not something they came to unthinkingly

    That.

    Also, you may have meant it to be only about that specific group of people in your congregation, but I don’t think the text lends itself to being read that way. I assume your post is meant to discuss the political landscape beyond your church, at least to some extent. And the language you’re using about the anti-war positions (imprint, here, has a connotation of unthinkingness, as opposed to a position derived from experience and consideration) accords with language often used to dismiss people who have those feelings or hold those positions.

    Another thing that … flags me a little? .. in your response is the way you went from “I’m grateful to other people” to assuming those people are police officers and firefighters. Not other people who work for the public good, e.g. public school teachers, nurses, activists who go to other countries to help resolve things by peaceful means and do grass roots work and teach literacy and so on, and social workers. I’m super grateful to them (with various caveats for individual abuse), but I am not challenged to say so on a regular basis, although I would happily do so. The expression of gratitude to them on a public scale is simply off the radar. When there are lots of “support social workers” stickers, maybe I won’t feel like there’s a weird imbalance involved with the way that we talk about respect for veterans that means the word “respect” is actually more complicated in this context, that it doesn’t just mean respect, that it’s associated with a lot of other ideas that I find very upsetting.

    Of course, veterans deserve the same respect due to any human! But I am not comfortable with the way in which veteran-ness is seen as inherently, in itself, demanding of respect, especially given what I just said about the context in which that concept is used in this particular circumstance.

    So, I shrug at the fact that in some ways your post says things I think should be obvious, and in others I think that it makes unjustified logical jumps, or just doesn’t really investigate the concepts that it’s taking for granted. My reaction to the post was ambivalence, tinged with, as I said, a bit of an “icky” feeling because I felt very dismissed by it, which you’ve clearly said was not your intent, so cool.

    When you ask what life experiences I may have had to make me feel as I do, well. I’m not really sure how to answer that per se. My first reaction is “none?” My second is “Well, sure, we all have a lot of life experiences, so everyone’s reaction will be informed by them, including yours?”

    My third is that it’s quite possible that my attitudes toward this question are at least partially informed by my being Jewish. There is a visceral, lived gratitude toward the good that can be accomplished by war. Simultaneously, there is a visceral, lived anxiety about the ways in which violence targets minorities. I cannot think of war without thinking of freed concentration camps; I cannot think of war without thinking of pogroms.

    This is a bit of a skimmed response, not a complete point-by-point one. That’s because I’m finding this conversation a smidge stressful (not your fault, Grace, just my broader mood) so I may not comment a whole bunch more, although I don’t think we’re communicating our points to each other effectively, or at least I felt you were responding to points tangentially related to ones I wrote, but not the ones I was attempting to get across. I need to be in relatively good spirits to keep up a good writing space which I need to do right now.

    I do want to say, though, that I only responded because I do respect you and think you’re neat and thoughtful and considerate, and thus there might be something worthwhile in engaging. I was wary about responding at all and wouldn’t have if I didn’t hold you in respect. I hope that’s clear. :D

  31. 31
    Jake Squid says:

    Of course, veterans deserve the same respect due to any human! But I am not comfortable with the way in which veteran-ness is seen as inherently, in itself, demanding of respect…

    This gets to the heart of my discomfort with the OP and with special honoring of veterans. Do I dislike military folks? Hell, no. Do I dislike the military? To some extent. But those are two entirely separate things.

    Most of the people I know or have known who served in the military did not do it out of any sense of patriotism or bravery or altruism. The vast majority of folks I’ve known have done it for purely economic reasons. From the poor kid from the Bronx who enlisted at the age of 17 because it paid better and was a more secure job than any other available to him to the 20 year old who enlisted because, “no job, no girl…” to the 22 year old who enlisted because he had no career options and could no longer afford tuition towards his degree. I dislike none of these people. I am saddened that the military was their only/best option at the time.

    Do I/did I respect these people? Absolutely. Do I/did I respect them more for having served? No, the thought never entered my mind. These are people who, for the most part, looked at their options and chose the best one available to them at the time. While I’m thankful that I’ve always had better options available and sorry that they didn’t, I’m not sure why that demands respect above and beyond that we give to any other occupation.

    What I do believe, however, is that we owe veterans a lot more support – emotionally, monetarily, medically – than we give them. The current state of veterans benefits is something we should be ashamed of. I’d attend a ceremony or parade to support awareness of and increasing veterans benefits.

  32. 32
    alex says:

    How is imprint a metaphor? It is being used with it’s literal meaning.

  33. Alex:

    From Merriam-Webster online:

    [imprinting]: a rapid learning process that takes place early in the life of a social animal (as a goose) and establishes a behavior pattern (as recognition of and attraction to its own kind or a substitute)

    Clearly Grace is not suggesting that the members of her congregation are, in fact, geese or that they are displaying behaviors acquired when they were just children.

  34. 34
    Grace Annam says:

    Richard:

    When you use the term “imprinting” in relation to the members of your church, however, and their reflexive antipathy to the servicemen and women in your congregation, the essentializing aspect of the word feels very wrong.

    Please let me correct an apparent misimpression: I see no antipathy toward military service members in my congregation. Rather, what I was trying to describe in my metaphor was a conflict between a conscious desire to welcome and support members of the military, and reflexive discomfort with the things they associate with the military. Unfortunately, that reflexive discomfort shone through and negated their conscious desire to welcome, similar to the way a sincere, “I support ALL gay people!” combined with standing carefully distant might not seem all that welcoming to an LGB person.

    I might agree that these people’s reactions to individual people in the military have the look and feel of imprinting, but their aversion to all things military—and hence their discomfort with military men and women—is most likely not something they came to unthinkingly.

    I think you’re reducing toward simplicity too much. I think they came by those attitudes, as I think I came by my attitudes and all of us come by all of our attitudes, through an uncertain and complex process of socialization, emotional reaction to life experience, and critical thought. The conflict I was thinking of when I touched on that point was the conflict between what their rational thought has brought them to (“Yes, of course we want to welcome veterans generally, because I know that many veterans are good people who need such good communities as this, our church”) and what their gut brings them to (“Interacting with a veteran reminds me of things I abhor, like Hiroshima and My Lai and human suffering generally.”)

    Awhile back I was investigating a case in a local high school. The halls were filled with students. At one point, I was waiting for someone I was going to meet with, and so I was passing the time by greeting teachers and students I knew, and perusing the student art in the showcases. A student I did not know was on a course to walk past me, and her gaze took in my uniform, my face, and then went to my sidearm, which was in its security holster on my duty belt, along with all the other equipment. She shied away a step, and smiled nervously and said, “I don’t like guns” and shivered. The reaction times were slow enough that it was pretty clear to me that this was not the gut reaction of someone suddenly reminded of a trauma (a type of reaction I see frequently) but a product of conscious intent, a little moment of theater enacted perhaps to practice what she regarded as the proper reaction to seeing a gun, and perhaps to communicate this to me in a nonconfrontational way.

    I recall smiling sympathetically. I don’t recall specifically what I said in response, but it was probably along the lines of, “Unfortunately, sometimes we need them.” And she went on her way.

    Using the “imprinting” metaphor, I would say that that student was in the process of “imprinting” the notion that a gun, as an object, is a bad thing per se, and worthy of reflexive revulsion. She wasn’t quite there, yet, but give her a couple more years and she could get there.

    I don’t maintain that she came to it unthinkingly. But I do maintain that’s she’s come to believe that such a reaction should be unthinking, and she’s busy laying that road in her psyche.

    I was raised to revere non-violence, myself, and it took me time, deliberation and consultation with teachers for me to work out the difference between non-violence as a public political act, and non-violence as a tactic in a dark alley where no one cares. Ultimately, I came to decide that there is a time when violence is an ethical requirement (rare, but extant) and a time to walk empty-handed up to an armed person (less rare, especially in an activist). But to get there, I had to unlearn my own imprinting that violence was bad per se, always.

    So I have some sympathy for those church members; I know from personal experience what that discomfort feels like. In fact, in her sermon, Lioness did not spare me; she use something I did when I was twenty, before I learned a valuable lesson, as an example toward a point she made.

    I’m not intending to stand in judgement, and apparently in my attempt at brevity I didn’t get that across to some of my readers.

    Mandolin:

    Another thing that … flags me a little? .. in your response is the way you went from “I’m grateful to other people” to assuming those people are police officers and firefighters. Not other people who work for the public good…

    Hang on a moment. I didn’t mention firefighters first — Copyleft did. I didn’t mention police officers first. You and Jut did. I was replying to you folks.

    That said, there is a reason that in comparisons to military service, police work and firefighting work come up a lot. They all share, by design, the act of putting yourself in harm’s way toward a social good. People clearly see a qualitative difference between those jobs and other jobs which involve personal risk, like inner-city social work, or highrise construction. (Reflecting, I suppose the difference is that danger is not inherent to social work; it is a result of location and circumstances. And danger is inherent to highrise construction, but it’s not work toward an immediate social good; it’s pay for hire by a corporation. I think I would be inclined to classify combat photographers in the same category with police and firefighters, and of course combat medics, and possibly people who do jobs like New York City’s sandhogs.)

    I hear what you’re saying, that veterans seem to get more than their share of gratitude, or that there exists a social mandate to be grateful to them. I think the solution to that is not to thank them less, but to appreciate the less appreciated that much more.

    At the same time, I agree with Jake that the state of veterans benefits is shameful. And simultaneously, I think that social workers deserve better healthcare than they probably typically get (I think this is true of many, many Americans, frankly). Back and forth, back and forth…

    My third is that it’s quite possible that my attitudes toward this question are at least partially informed by my being Jewish. There is a visceral, lived gratitude toward the good that can be accomplished by war. Simultaneously, there is a visceral, lived anxiety about the ways in which violence targets minorities. I cannot think of war without thinking of freed concentration camps; I cannot think of war without thinking of pogroms.

    Thank you for this. I’m not Jewish myself, though I have Jewish family, and it’s good for me to be reminded of this. I also think it neatly displays one way of slicing the complexity of the horror and necessity of violence.

    That’s because I’m finding this conversation a smidge stressful

    Yeah, me too, actually. This may be my last response (unless someone draws me out again — darn you, Richard and Mandolin!).

    I do want to say, though, that I only responded because I do respect you and think you’re neat and thoughtful and considerate, and thus there might be something worthwhile in engaging. I was wary about responding at all and wouldn’t have if I didn’t hold you in respect. I hope that’s clear. :D

    Whether or not it was clear before, it’s unmistakeable for you having said it, so thank you. The respect is mutual, to be sure. I’m sorry we engaged on tangents. I think sometimes it’s a weakness of online communication that we focus only on things we disagree with or cavil at, without adequately expressing agreement on the more important points.

    Grace

  35. Grace,

    I just want to say that your response makes clear that what you were trying to talk about is a good deal more nuanced and interesting (and, frankly, I think important) than was apparent from your original post. But this is often the way with writing, or at least with my writing. I start out talking about something in terms that are clear to me; then I get responses—which sometimes come from myself—that make me start digging a little more, and then what I first wrote starts to unravel, not completely, but just enough for me to see where I need to weave a little tighter, or add more threads to fill out the pattern, or whatever; and the end result may not be what I thought I was writing about when I started, but it does usually turn out to be what I really needed/wanted to say—I just hadn’t known it.

    In any event, thanks for the response. It was thought provoking.

  36. 36
    alex says:

    Seriously, Richard? You must know imprint is an ordinary english word. You must know it wasn’t invented in 1937. You must be aware it has an ordinary meaning of fix permanently in ones mind and has had this for some time, since the 14th century as it turns out. That can’t be news.

    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/imprint

    You don’t get to say something offensive in ordinary english, and then try and handwave and bullshit it away as a metaphor when challenged. It has a literal meaning, if you don’t want to stand behind it that great – but you don’t get to pretend what you said was a device and doesn’t have its actual meaning.

    I would love to be a fly on the wall in your house. “Darling, I ran to the shop, but it was closed”. “But Dear, Mrs Smith called to say she saw you walking around the park drinking something out of a paper bag”. “Ah, well, when I said ran I was using it metaphoricly, I never intended you to think I literally ran…”

  37. 37
    Hector_St_Clare says:

    I may be missing something, but I have no clue what people are finding ‘offensive’ about the word ‘imprinting’ here.

    Seems like a totally innocuous term to me.

  38. 38
    Darya Teesewell says:

    I had number 74 in the draft in 1970. I got to stay out of the meat grinder which was Vietnam because my parents had enough money to send me to College. I had other friends who were smart enough to get scholarships and stayed because they studied hard.

    In those days, if you flunked out because of a little hard partying in your first term, you got reclassified 1-A and Uncle Sam owned your ass. We’d send you off with a party and we had no idea if you were going to spend three hot years in in office, hunkered down in a trench at Khe Sanh, or shipped home in an endless black line of body bags, which is what made us guilty college kids protest in the first place.

    The interaction between vets and us was authentic and complex back then before the government had figured out how to spin war as well then(for example, don’t let the press photograph body bags). Emotions were running high all around: some Vets felt we were naive, or that we were saying their sacrifice meant nothing, and they weren’t shy about getting in our faces about it. Many Vets, however, embraced and joined us, and they were deeply respected for that.
    We were reinventing protest then, and we had lots of energy and very little tact. “Hey,hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” is not exactly a facebook meme. Hell the copy machine was still relatively new technology, and I stayed up all night during the Cambodia strikes silk-screening T-shirts and armbands with red fists on them. We were occupying the front lawn of my University before the National Guard moved in.

    The Right has skewed the discussion to make it appear we all were spitting on the troops and calling them “baby killers”; we weren’t but some of us did, which was shameful. The Left needs to remember how hard-edged those times were; the birth pains were not easy. I sat in on an SDS meeting once when a lot of them decided they would resist violently. We were going through a milder version of what SCLC , SNCC and now, the Panthers(who were communist lite) were going through: what’s the best means to the end?

    We kept marching and that stupid war ended. The cost is incalculable, both for the occupier and the occupied. We’ve continued to fight seemingly good-intentioned, ultimately pointless wars and the costs continue to rack up.

    My Dad got a Bronze star in Okinawa; he lost friends the night he won it. His courage and loss are no more or less noble than young man or woman who served in Iraq or Afghanistan. We told them to go and they went, and some of them died or will never be the same.

    Warriors have a noble profession, and I honor them. Politicians, not so much.