Inconvenient memories: Veteran’s Day 2014

by Guest Author Ross Caputi

cost ofwar

Iraq war protest poster showing Lancet estimate of Iraqis killed, May 28, 2008. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Author: Random McRandomhead.

Most Americans believe Veterans Day is a day of remembrance; in reality, it’s generally a day of forgetting.

On Veterans Day, people applaud as veterans march in parades, wearing their medals and fancy uniforms. People who have never seen or smelt war’s rotting corpses bask in an atmosphere of pride and patriotism, suppressing inconvenient memories of hundreds of thousands of civilians killed in Iraq, millions in Vietnam, hundreds of thousands in Korea, and so on throughout our nation’s short and bloody history.

On Veterans Day, we are spared all the unpleasantries that might give us pause about the value or benevolence of our wars. We listen to the bands playing, but ignore the troubles faced by returning veterans. Where is the glory in PTSD, addiction, suicide?

On Veterans Day, we make believe that support for the troops is apolitical. Just like the victims of our wars, the reasons why young Americans have been asked to go to war, and the consequences of those wars are conveniently forgotten and nobody seems to notice.

On Veterans Day, we are called upon to remember America’s wars, sanitized of the harm they brought to countless victims around the world, and abstracted from their historical and political context. We are asked to support our veterans while forgetting the reality of what they participated in. It is a pleasant fairy tale, and I wish I could partake in it. But my experience as a Marine in Iraq has forever changed the way I look at war and the way I feel about being a veteran.

Let’s change the way we celebrate Veterans Day. Let’s make it a day of learning, not forgetting. Let’s be sympathetic to the ways veterans have suffered without ignoring the suffering of civilian victims. Let’s teach and learn about the wars in which our veterans have participated without glossing over the historical and political context in which they occurred. Let’s end the reflexive support for popular mythology, the jingoism, the cheer-leading, and the forgetting. Let’s refuse to encourage the next generation to follow in the footsteps of today’s veterans.

This entry was posted in culture of violence, militarization, Patriotism, Understanding violence and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Inconvenient memories: Veteran’s Day 2014

  1. Gold Dust Twin says:

    That’s telling ’em, Mr. Caputi! I applaud every single one of your suggestions in the last paragraph of your excellent essay. Let’s indeed make Veteran’s Day an occasion for learning the true facts about the wars we celebrate when we should be grieving and vowing to nip in the bud current and future clarion calls to shed the blood of our military forces and whatever “enemy” our government has selected for killing. Let’s be very sure to share these facts with the vulnerable young people whose lives and limbs are at stake.

  2. Nicole V. says:

    This blog post urges readers to revolve Veterans Day around remembering the suffering of both the veterans and the civilian victims that have been implicated in conflicts associated with the United States, both recently and in the past. Aside from suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, addiction and suicide, as mentioned in the blog post, it is possible that some of these veterans are suffering from neglectful behavior and maltreatment. The National Center on Elder Abuse describes various ways in which elderly people can be maltreated, including being deserted by someone assuming responsibility of him or her (abandonment; having anguish, being financially or materially exploited; and the infliction of physical pain, impairment or a bodily injury to name a few. The most common forms of abuse towards the elderly however, are seen in the forms of emotional, psychological and verbal maltreatment, constituting almost half of the cases of abuse. More specifically, women over the age of 80, who are being taken care of by family members, are most likely to be maltreated in comparison to the rest of the categories within the elderly population. Just as this article pleads for the next generation of veterans to consider the consequences of the wars their predecessors were drafted into, it is important for the all caretakers, whether family members or not, to respect individuals who may no longer have the cognitive or physical functioning to act in their own will. One reason behind the perpetration of the abuse may be that the perpetrator is committing abusive acts against an elderly person who once inflicted abuse upon him or her, most likely an abusive parent. In order to break this destructive cycle of violence, it is important for the victim to first recognize that he or she is being abused and that if needed, there are alternative living situations and other resources available in order for this person to reduce the possibility of the abuse being reiterated. In order to further advocate the problem, reports of elderly maltreatment should be passed onto civil or criminal justice systems in order for further research to be conducted in the area, to help elderly individuals who are being abused and those family members or caretakers perpetrating the abuse. Especially because there there is currently no national data on the processing of such reports.

  3. T.Paine says:

    I would like to qualify myself by pointing out the fact that I am a military veteran who has suffered from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. My PTSD wasn’t inflicted by anything I saw or did when I was in the military. My PTSD was the outcome of my experience as a victim of an armed robbery right here in America. And let me tell you, there is no glory in suffering from PTSD, no matter what caused it. None of the sympathy and none of the concern of family and friends does much to help it go away.
    I can relate to Ross’s post in its entirety and believe that he has written something that should be recognized for what it is–the truth.

    • Linda Dupre' says:

      In response to T. Paine: I have never served in the military, nor do I suffer from PTSD. I am, however, employed by a mental health agency and have had the privilege of becoming familiar with a few veterans who share your sense that no amount of empathy/sympathy and concern will make the symptoms go away.

      I have learned these are remarkable people who draw on skills and strengths no one else can fathom, just to get through a day that most of us wouldn’t even think was difficult.

      The general public go about their daily lives without a thought to the current – or past wars, and worry about menial tasks and paychecks. They seem to have no idea how glamorized war is, nor do they appear to be aware of Veteran’s Day as anything other than a paid day off from work. Our public need educating and reminders on all fronts.

      I agree with you that Ross’s post expresses the truth and wish more people would read it!

      Good luck to you T. Paine.

      • kathiemm says:

        Thank you so much for your poignant comment, Linda. This blog is always enriched by people who can share their own experiences. Your ability to appreciate and empathize with the veterans you serve is heartwarming, and I agree with the importance of public education and reminders regarding what “service to their country” meant for these men and women who still bear scars that are largely ignored by a public that does not want to know or think about them.

      • Gold Dust Twin says:

        Thank you, Linda Dupres, for your insights into what veterans are going through every day, unheralded and sadly unappreciated by the vast majority of the public. Your message is a good start toward enlightening all of us, including me, as to why returning soldiers deserve a lot more than our rote recognition once a year of their sacrifices.

  4. Celeste H. says:

    The parades and supposed ‘patriotism’ we see every year on Veterans Day allows many, as Ross suggests, to put the real impact of war behind them. The majority of Veterans in the United States are men, and with the two most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan we are seeing an increase in the influx of veterans who suffer from major depression and PTSD. However, our society still struggles to help thus struggling with mental health issues and the stigma and judgement surrounding getting help still prevents many veterans and service members from seeking treatment. Getting help for mental health also goes against the strict masculine identify that we have boxed males into in the United States. There are similar barriers to help with males who are victims of maltreatment from their female partners. One study shoes that as many as 7% of men had been physically assaulted by a current or previous wife. However, many experts view this number as an underestimate because of the reluctancy of many men to report being assaulted by a partner. Like other types of maltreatment, IPV against male partners is correlated with low income of both partners and unemployment of male partners and employment of female partners. If women are unsatisfied with their partner and relationship and have a negative view of their partner, they are more likely to be aggressive towards their partner. Unfortunately, maltreatment of male partners does not stop with just physical maltreatment but psychological as well. Studies show that anywhere from 50% to 95% of men have been psychological maltreated by a partner. Just like improving access to Service Members with mental health and health issues we need to increase access for male victims of intimate partner maltreatment. This will take a much needed shift in our society’s perception of men and masculinity.

  5. Se June Han says:

    Veteran’s Day has always been a day of celebration for all the honor and sacrifice the veterans have been committing for the past few decades. Yet, we have forgotten all the lives that are being lost this very day and the ugly reality that: violence is breeding violence. Men have been in violent wars for years and risking themselves death in the warzone but also death in the home.
    The violence men are experiencing in warfare have been a direct predictor for the amount of violence in the household. As they experience violence as a solution, they learn to use it in the household and a predictor of male victimization of IPV is the use of IPV by men as well. Since there are so few services for male victims and female perpetrators, the victimization of the men have been a long, hidden issue. If there are 94.9% of men who have been reported psychological aggression and 31.9% of expressive aggression victimization, the problem of men’s victimization is not something to be taken lightly. Warfare is a breeding ground for bad behavior for the household and it may be time to spend more time not on the war but on the soldiers coming back home so that they can adjust appropriately.
    War veterans have been fighting soldiers in the war and then fighting violence in the household. It is time that Veteran’s Day isn’t so much about celebrating but more about accommodating and helping returning soldiers.

  6. Michaela Buckley says:

    The message here is powerful; America is generally far too willing to overlook the unpleasantries of our society. All too often, people believe what they want to believe, without ever really looking at the facts. So even though facts may not be enough to change behaviors or even opinions, it is still the first step. One issue that needs to be more acknowledged is the victimization of male partners. Society deems men as the more violent sex, but does this overlook how many acts of violence are committed by women? Does it ignore the very present reality of male victimization in family violence? Men can be raped. Men can be physically abused by smaller female partners. So why don’t we acknowledge it?
    Well, for starters, the primary concern of many researchers in the field of family violence is that if we deem the maltreatment of male partners a significant problem; we will divert attention away from abused women (Mignon, 1998). However, we know that this is not necessarily true. Apart from this societal falsehood, the issue of male victimization also may receive relatively little awareness because men may not be very likely to report their abuse. This may be because “the man is supposed to be the physically dominant and aggressive partner; consequently, admitting to victimization by a woman and labeling it a “crime” may be emasculating (Steinmetz, 1977). Even going beyond IPV, men are also much less likely to report non-domestic assaults by other men, even when severe injuries result. Even taking this under-representation into consideration, 0.8% of the adult male population reported being physically assaulted by a current wife, former wife, or cohabitating partner in the previous year (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000a). More upsettingly, 28.2% of men reported lifetime prevalence of IPV victimization.
    So what are some reasons why these rates are so high? For starters, some women report hitting their male partners because they know that their partners either will not or cannot hit them back, and because they did not think that they could hurt them (Fiebert & Gonzalez, 1997). Some other reasons that women may use physical force against their male partners could be to show anger, retaliate for emotional hurt, express feelings they had difficulty communicating verbally, to gain control, to get the partner’s attention, or jealousy. One interesting finding was that women were more likely to be abusive towards male partners if they were employed or earned more money than their male partner.
    IPV towards males is also strikingly common among college populations. There are a number of reasons why this happens on campuses, and a lot of them have to do with the culture and attitudes of a specific university.. For example, “Hines (2007a) found that PTS symptoms in male victims were higher on college campuses with higher rates of hostility toward men.” Additionally, “among college men, stress based on masculine role demands predicts their use of verbal aggression (Jakupcak, 2003).” These sorts of attitudes do not just amplify victimization symptoms in men, they can also exacerbate men’s perpetration of violence. College males actually report higher rates of both inflicting injury and sustaining injury. Interestingly, males were more likely to sustain an injury as a result of IPV, since “8.4% of men and 5.0% of women sustained an injury” in one study. Hines and Saudino’s 2003 study assessed both women’s and men’s experiences of sexual aggression and found that “24.5% of men and 24% of women were victimized by sexual aggression.” Is it surprising that a higher percentage of men than women were victims in this study? Most would probably believe it is. However, after being educated on actual prevalences of male victimization in America, it is not surprising at all. It’s definitely easier to believe that females are the main victims of violence because that excludes half of the population; however, the “inconvenient” truth seems to be that neither men nor women are entirely safe.

  7. Christine C. says:

    After watching “The Invisible War”, I cannot stop thinking about the experience one former Coast Guard had while she fruitlessly sought support from the VA on Veteran’s Day. On a day meant to commemorate men and women who served our country, this rape survivor, who endured violence that dislocated her jaw, was met with endless paperwork and a broken system. While people were out in the streets celebrating, this victim of military sexual assault remained injured and unheard. Like many women who are victims of intimate partner violence (IPV), society ignores and at times even tolerates male violence against women. Male violence is such a problem in the US that 1/3 of female homicides is committed by intimate partners. Even less extreme forms of violence are far too common in intimate partner relationships. Although this man was not her partner, 59% of women who are battered are also raped by their partner.

    This Coast Guard, Kori, observed stalking behaviors by her commander prior to her rape. The issue of stalking in the US is underrated and not well understood. This behavior is seen as so unimportant that punishments for stalking are usually unsubstantial. This lack of consequence for stalking mirrors the lack of punishment that men in the Coast Guard, Air Force, and other services faced for rape charges. In the majority of cases depicted in “The Invisible War”, rapists were in no way recognized or held accountable for their actions. It is not surprising that in a society where violence against women is tolerated so extremely that women suffer harmful and sometimes deadly consequences of IPV. This translates back to civilians who stalk women when they have recently ended a relationship or lost a job. Stalkers feel not only entitled to women’s bodies and attention but also feel that they’re not culpable because the law reinforces that mindset.

    “The Invisible War” has taught me that there is more to think about on Veteran’s Day other than parades and patriotism. This day should serve as a beacon to society that there are veterans who are in need of medical treatment and better system to serve their needs. Kori battled the VA for 7 years to have surgery to repair damage inflicted by a peer while serving and I think that is 7 years too long. All statistics and Information from Family Violence in the United States Defining, Understanding, and Combating Abuse.

  8. Stephanie Moses says:

    Every Veteran’s Day, we applaud the veterans, but fail to acknowledge their troubles upon returning from war. We take pride in our country, but ignore the realities of war, which most of us, including myself, will never understand. But we can learn from, support, and sympathize with the veterans. As I was reading this post, I kept thinking about college – something I can relate to much more closely than war. College is supposed to be the best time in a young adult’s life. And while I would hardly relate college to war, there are certain pressures and hardships associated with it. I am sure many of us have nodded and smiled politely when asked about our college experiences, failing to bring up the stress, anxiety, depression, and for some, abuse that has made up the “best four years of our lives.”

    A 2008 study showed that 31 percent of students experienced intimate partner violence in college. There are predictors that I believe to be especially prevalent during college years that lead to maltreatment in college student relationships. At the exosystem level, stress and lack of social integration contribute to maltreatment. At the microsystem level, dependency on a partner, and self-worth tied to a romantic relationship are predictors of maltreatment, and at the individual/developmental, alcohol and drug use.

    The majority of sexual assaults on college students involve alcohol, the perpetrator sometimes using drugs or pressuring the victim to drink alcohol in an attempt to seduce him or her. The majority of this happens on dates or at parties, and due to the environment of college, there is some sort of relationship between the victim and perpetrator. There are circumstances unique to college that might increase the chance of maltreatment. Greek life can be a big part of a college social scene. People are more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors, and there is a higher chance of maltreatment for both men and women. And while college can be a wonderful experience, we often do not acknowledge the bad that comes with it. In general, it is important to be educated and aware of the realities of situations that we might not otherwise think about.

  9. Amanda D. says:

    This post was really interesting to me. Though I have never served in the military I have always believed in supporting our troops, primarily because I don’t believe it’s fair to judge soldiers for the agendas of politicians. I loved that the author asked for us “to be sympathetic to the ways veterans have suffered without ignoring the suffering of civilian victims.” This post reminded me that older adults and people with disabilities, like veterans and civilian victims, are sometimes forgotten about when it comes to discussing maltreatment.
    It wasn’t until the 1970s that elder abuse was even “discovered,” in part because of definitional issues of neglect and abuse of adults (not children, who are always dependent on others). It can also be hard to understand why this type of abuse happens, since maltreatment of older adults can happen for a wider range of possibilities than other types of abusive relationships: IPV of older adults can be the result of long-standing IPV that continues into old age, maltreatment can be the result of caretaker stress, or an older person could be taken advantage by an adult dependent.
    Veterans are perhaps the group best known for suffering from PTSD (although they may not be the largest group), and it would likely not be difficult to find soldiers who suffer from other forms of psychological issues after being in combat. Every now and then the news will report on civilian victims, too, who have been known to suffer from a wide range of psychological disorders after war has touched their home. Similarly, a decrease in overall mental health for elders experiencing maltreatment has been found, especially with depression and anxiety.
    Although laws and intervention efforts for maltreated elders have improved in recent decades, there are still limitations: little uniformity in laws across the states regarding definitions of and provisions for abuse of older adults exists. Though the system isn’t perfect, this post made me wonder what is done to help civilian victims who are suffering…unfortunately, I fear that the answer is not much. In a conflict, mental health does not seem to be thought of as a priority the same way physical health is, and it is not unreasonable to say that civilians can become collateral damage in a political tussle. It should go without saying, but this is not acceptable.
    When it comes to how this post correlates to people living with disabilities, the connection is even stronger. Mental illness, even if temporary, is considered a disability, and those suffering from PTSD certainly fall under that umbrella (if they so choose to identify as having a disability). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women with disabilities experience all major forms of maltreatment at approximately twice the rate of other groups. Although research on maltreated men with disabilities is not as extensive as on maltreated women with disabilities, one study did find that 65% of men reported having been physically maltreated and 24% sexually maltreated in their lifetime. This begs the question: how many veterans and civilians that are already suffering psychologically after war are further maltreated because of their mental illnesses?
    It should be noted that someone with a long term disability, such as untreated PTSD, can experience worsening treatment as he or she ages: social isolation, lack of knowledge about community resources, and inadequate care by community organizations all appear to be risk factors for maltreatment of aging individuals with disabilities. Even more frightening, social stereotypes can cause both victims and perpetrators to believe that maltreatment of people with disabilities is acceptable.
    When we live in a world where veterans and civilian victims are not always given the care they need and where social stereotypes can lead to further maltreatment of an already suffering individual, it is clear that something needs to change. Yes, we need to be aware that veterans are not the only ones suffering: this is why better treatment options for both veterans and civilians need to be made available, immediately.

  10. Many of the replies to this article dealt with the ongoing problem of domestic violence as a ‘war’ which it certainly is and survivors, the lucky ones, as veterans of this war. I don’t feel qualified to add anything new to this line of discourse but I am a military combat veteran (Vietnam) so I will confine my comments to that aspect.

    I was one of the lucky ones who wasn’t wounded and who didn’t get involved, as so many of my comrades did, in incidents or what are euphemistically called “lapses of judgement” on the battlefield in which friendly troops, surrendered enemy, or civilians were gunned down out of rage or simply a lust to keep killing. PTSD is real and is finally recognized as a wounding just like any physical trauma. Then there is the irony of the amazing progress of military battlefield medicine: many who would have died come back home. But they come back home to long-term and often permanent hospitalization.

    We simply have not been prepared to this cost, in most important ways the largest cost of our wars. The scandals at VA hospitals are only partly attributable to bureaucratic ineptitude and self-serving careerists. There just aren’t enough beds and enough medical professionals to deal with everyone we sent over and brought back in a wounded condition. The new head of the VA says he could hire an additional 20,000 medical professionals if he had the funds. We need to supply those funds and then remember to figure them into true cost of waging our wars.

    And maybe someone could encourage the visiting of veterans at hospitals as much as we do parades on Veterans Day.

    • kathiemm says:

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment, Michael. Your reminders of what war does to its “survivors,” including the veterans who are all too often all too forgotten by all too many of us are poignant and thought-provoking. I have vague childhood memories of visiting or talks of visiting World War II veterans. It is all very hazy but it does seem to me that there was a more general awareness then of the costs of war to its veterans than seems apparent in all our wars since then. I think your suggestion about visiting veterans at hospitals is a great one, and it makes me wonder in what other everyday ways we can do more to fight the scourge of war for all its victims. Certainly finding ways to pressure the government to find more ways to alleviate the suffering of the millions of the various types of survivor and their various forms of suffering rather than creating new victims is another goal we should embrace.

  11. Pingback: An Honorable Marine | Engaging Peace

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * logo