Veterans Speak Out, Part 1

Ross Caputi in Iraq.

Note from Kathie MM:  This post from long-time guest author  Ross Caputi begins a new series on ending violence; his focus is on the role of veterans in promoting repair as an antidote to violence.

Veterans Speak Out, Part 1

By Ross Caputi

Ever since I got out of the military, I’ve felt that those around me, conservatives and progressives alike, have bent over backwards to give me an opportunity to talk about my experience in Iraq. I think many people do it because they think they owe me this courtesy.

But others seek me out and ask me to speak about my experience because they know and I know that veteran stories accomplish a lot of political work. I always accept, because I have an agenda to push.

I want to end war and prosecute war criminals.

But I’ve always felt uncomfortable with using the authority of my voice as a veteran to accomplish anti-war work. It’s a strange corner that I feel backed into where I have to identify myself as a former soldier so that I can try to undermine our culture of soldier-worship. And I can’t help but feel troubled by the contradiction between the means and ends of this rhetorical strategy.

No doubt, the privileged status of soldiers/veterans in the US is a major reason why we play such an important role in the anti-war movement. Our biggest contribution is that we help civilians navigate support-the-troops jingoism and accusations that anti-war ideas are unpatriotic. For whatever historical reasons, veterans enjoy a near sacred status in US culture and society. We carry with us an enormous amount of symbolic capital, and our voices are privileged like none others. We then bring this symbolic capital and privilege with us to the antiwar movement.

Simply by letting us make short speeches at anti-war rallies, or even letting us wear our cammies in an anti-war march, organizers know that audiences will be more willing to listen and less likely to criticize. In short, veterans help legitimize anti-war ideas by vouching for them.

But we can do more than that. Stay tuned.

Ross is the co-founder of the Islah Reparations Project. He is also the director of the documentary film Fear Not the Path of Truth: a veteran’s journey after Fallujah. The full essay, from which this post is excerpted, can be read at


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5 Responses to Veterans Speak Out, Part 1

  1. Dot Walsh says:

    Ross as a veteran is a very dedicated and courageous voice for peace. I know that many veterans choose to give back to the people that they once fought against. A couple of years ago I was in Vietnam with the Veterans for Peace who organized a tour from north to south Vietnam with an emphasis on what the needs of the people were. The unexploded ordinances are still exploding and killing and maiming Vietnamese children and adults. The veterans have started a program to educate the people about the bombs and their danger and in this way save many lives. Also they work with local people who have been affected by agent orange, the poison that still is causing birth defects leaving serious life challenges. Somehow Americans think when a war is over that all is well when instead the war continues in many different ways. I am grateful for Ross and all veterans who were once part of the problem to now see themselves as part of the solution.

    • Ross Caputi says:

      Thanks for that, Dot. One thing we want to do with reparations is to be clear about the nature of our responsibility to our war victims. We try to avoid the language of “giving” or “helping,” which could be construed as condescending. Reparations isn’t just good will, it’s a moral responsibility. I think this simple reframing brings a lot of clarity to our relationship with our war victims.

  2. Dot Walsh says:

    A little addition. If we are to prosecute war criminals we will have to sign on to the International Criminal Court, as up until now we have not. Guess why?

  3. Many thanks for your courage of conscience, Ross. Your words are humble, eloquent, and powerful. There is vitally important truth in what you say. Your voice is like a beacon of light in the darkness. If you haven’t already, I hope you access The Peace Abbey Foundation website for moral and inspirational support. You might also note my “comment” on Michael Corgan’s post, which Kathie said she will shortly print. Keep up the good work, brother. I know you will. And thanks again!

  4. Dot Walsh says:

    I thought this article was appropriate to accompany Ross’s post.\
    Search Results | Greater Good Magazine
    Title: Who is a Hero

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