The Military community, among all communities or cohorts in the United States, is the most likely to “police” its members.
This is very much by design. It is hard to see or know this when you are a Private or a Junior Officer. At this level of experience, you can’t see the Forrest through the trees because you are more focused on what actions you need to take in order to keep your boss off your ass for the next 24 hours. But this self-policing mechanism allows leadership to know that the individuals at their subordinate units will stay within legal, ethical and regulatory bounds while accomplishing their mission with very little oversight.
But, this mechanism too often bleeds into off-duty hours activities and even worse, to the civilian world. Now, it is not that I disagree with it carte-blanche. In fact, it is usually harmless. But because of our ingrained desire to call others out along with the perceived social benefit of doing so, this policing can quickly become bullying.
Take a look at the picture above. What is the first thought it elicits? Is it anger at the circumstances that lead the owner of the sign to contract PTSD? Is it a desire to be considerate and use fireworks that don’t focus on noise? Or is it that the owner is an entitled ass who is looking for sympathy and public recognition, deserved or not?
The problem I see is that too often, we assume the third. Now, I have long felt awkward every time someone thanks me for my service. Make no mistake, I am proud of my service. But it took place mostly behind a wired fence, sending emails and coordinating support for real ground-pounders. So, I find myself with very little mandate to criticize my fellow veterans.
But, let’s pretend that I was such a bad-ass that to find a peer I would have to travel back in time to meet Audie Murphy. Do I then have the mandate to criticize other veteran’s actions? Do I have the moral authority to judge other veterans, their mental states and their service and then to find them wanting or even detestable?
I would respond with a resounding “No”.
And the reason for this is simple. There is no reason to judge them in the first place. There is nothing to gain, and the community does not improve because of it. You don’t know what they have been through or what their mental state is. Everyone handles stress and trauma differently, depending on who they are and what their experience is. I have seen manly monsters break down upon receiving an upsetting email from their boss, just as I have seen seemingly meek people run havoc over crisis situations and save the day. There is no reason to assume anything upon a quick glance.
Now, you can’t stop yourself from having the thoughts or knee-jerk reactions. To demand that would be inhuman and unrealistic. The real question is, what action will you take when these thoughts occur?
The author of this article does not like people who display the signs as shown above. His entire editorial harangues veterans who have these signs as entitled brats whose service most likely does not meet the impossible standard that the author has set. He makes wild assumptions based on pictures that he has acquired through Facebook or other social media, seemingly borrowing his assumptions from others then amplifying them.
In a way, my own article is policing and I am guilty of the same action. I think that the fact that there is no want for context in the referenced article is the difference. With any of the pictures that the author presents, there is a major lack of context. But the author displays his background and thought process, all possible context included save for what he has done to be in receipt of such judgmental license. He does include a slight out that yes, some veterans are legitimate in their needs for such a sign. But two token sentences after over 1800 words deriding the signs seems like an intellectual cop-out more than anything.
He also pre-defends himself against accusations that articles like this are the reason that veterans don’t reach out for the care they require. He states, “First, I think anyone with problems should get help for those problems. I mean actual, professional help, rather than engage in attention-seeking behavior that reeks of entitlement.”
The assumption here is that the veteran has not done that already and that this is not part of what the professional has suggested. But even if this were not true, perhaps the veteran simply can understand their own limitations. Maybe they understand that explosions, even of fireworks, can be upsetting to them. Instead of just “dealing with it” and moving on, taking action to not fear simply existing on the Fourth of July is more than appropriate. Is the sign a panacea that will cure the ills of the veteran? Absolutely not. It is just a sign, and it is only as effective as long as it is seen and understood.
So why does the author take such issue with the sign and those who display them? I could say that they are trying to down someone simply for being week. But I don’t think that is the case. The argument the author displays lends credence to that thought, but it is not the purpose of his writing. Is it that the author is trying to jealously guard some perceived pool of virtue that is exhaustible and beyond value? No, though the author certainly would claim that he and few others have the right to draw from that pool.
The article is really about policing other veterans. The author finds himself as the arbiter of what is deserving of praise and what is not; of who is truly a combat veteran and how they should act. Just like he must ensure that everyone maintains their uniformity during an in-ranks inspection, he feels that actions taken when off duty must meet a set of unwritten regulations that the author is privy to. And in his quest to ensure that these right and left limits are enforced, the only tool he has is to bully and deride others.
Are there veterans who take advantage of the public’s perceptions for personal profit or social status? Absolutely. But they are few and far between. Just like you should not judge all gun owners by the behavior of a mass murder or all preachers by the actions of one pedophile, you should not judge all veterans by the conduct of one jackass. This is especially true when the behavior has no perceivable consequence to you.
But, should my reasoning seem unconvincing to you, let me suggest a different course of action. Instead of writing an article deriding what is seen as a breach of conduct, why not speak to the fellow veteran and ask them why they chose to post the sign? If the suspicions are true, ask the veteran to take the sign down and preserve the pool of virtue. If they are false, you gain the opportunity to let a fellow veteran know you are there to support them, growing the bond of brotherhood that the uniform creates.
But I have an idea why the author didn’t. And I am keeping that to myself.