Dear America: You’ve done enough to support your veterans. Thank you.
By Jim Gourley, Best Defense guest columnist Dear America, There’s something I’d like to tell you on this day after Veterans Day. It’s not something veterans or military members say often enough, but it’s time we accustom ourselves to saying it frequently and sincerely. Thank you for your support. Since 2001, you have stood by ...
By Jim Gourley, Best Defense guest columnist
By Jim Gourley, Best Defense guest columnist
There’s something I’d like to tell you on this day after Veterans Day. It’s not something veterans or military members say often enough, but it’s time we accustom ourselves to saying it frequently and sincerely. Thank you for your support. Since 2001, you have stood by your troops and your veterans to the best of your ability. No one could ask for more.
I know some people will take issue with that idea. Of course, not each and every American citizen has given direct support to help service members in Iraq and Afghanistan or veterans returned from those wars. Just last week I was reminded of this when a colleague confessed to me that he had been totally unaware of the suicide rate among veterans; a subject near and dear to my heart. Many veterans are of the opinion that every individual in this country has a duty to shoulder some portion of the burden of these wars. They view military members, their families and supporters as a determined and righteous few defending a lazy and entitled many. But America has never been about the few, let alone individuals. Our underlying faith in the American system has always been that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And on the whole you have given tremendous support to the men and women of your armed forces, both overseas and at home. It is more important than ever to acknowledge your contributions to the war effort, because that is the key to overcoming the challenge of giving our last bulk force of returning veterans the closure that is so vital after experiencing war.
Since 2001, veterans have been returning from war with a range of experiences and impressions. It amounts to a varied assortment of emotional radioactivity. Some people describe it in the language of psychology, others philosophy, still others spirituality. What it boils down to is a service member’s need to contextualize and reconcile those experiences with the life they had beforehand and the life they are preparing to live afterward. But even as that first "crop" of veterans began processing their military experiences, a new one came home to join them. Others followed, and they have continued coming home for the last thirteen years. This has been compounded by a cultural phenomenon. Veterans often find that they don’t relate as well to civilians, especially when it comes to their military experience. Naturally, they gravitate toward other veterans. In effect, instead of going through its natural decay, the emotional radioactivity continues to be energized by the addition of new debris. This has led to a toxic set of beliefs with a corresponding message that veterans are "better Americans" because of their sacrifices for their country, while their civilian countrymen have not generally participated in national service. You might ask whether the message or the belief came first, but the only real answer is that they exist to reinforce each other. Put together, they make a credo that gives form to the substance of angst among veterans. They offer a simple, easily articulated explanation for why so many men and women did not come home alive, why civilian life fails to resume its normal course after combat, and why our wars did not end the same way for us as they did in 1945, with an official end to hostilities, victory, and a joyous homecoming parade. The simplicity is the most alluring part of that message. Because it "feels" right, it offers a veteran an easy shortcut through the process of dealing with the military experience. It’s much easier for a veteran to say "I’m different, I always will be, and it’s your fault" than "I have been away, I have to adapt to how things have changed, and it’s going to take work."
But if you ever hear someone speak in those terms, in no way should you take it as a commentary on the state of our country or its people. It’s about nothing more than the way that person feels. In that, the person in question is clearly identifying the "civil-military" gap in our modern society. It’s right there inside them. They personally do not feel connected to their country. Hopefully this can make you more sympathetic to their vitriol. Imagine feeling so much commitment to your country that you would go and risk your life for it, and then being left with the idea that you were no longer part of it. The most critical step that person can make in "getting back home" is to acknowledge what American civilians have done for him or her; to let it sink in that they really were supported and appreciated the whole time.
Not every veteran feels that way when they come home, and even fewer feel that way for the rest of their lives. I came home from war for the last time in 2008. I spent a long time getting over feelings of anger and sadness. There are veterans today who are still dealing with those same feelings. There are still others that have yet to even get back to American soil to start that process. There is a lot of anger yet to come. There is a lot of patience and continued support that will be asked of you. I have faith that you will give it whenever you are asked. But don’t ever let anyone convince you that you owe something because you haven’t done enough. You’ve done a gracious plenty. You should be proud of that. American veterans should be grateful for it. So again, on behalf of those that recognize it, thank you for your service.
Jim Gourley is an author, journalist, and former military intelligence officer.
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