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 VeteranReparations.org.