Things I want to say
Respecting Soldiers...
Published on June 21, 2008 By charliemama In Philosophy

A few years ago, about the time the current conflict was picking up speed, I was watching the political pundits on TV one Sunday morning, when the subject of the military came up, specifically the death toll in Afghanistan and Iraq. A female newsperson, whose name I will not mention, suddenly became agitated and a bit uneasy and said, "Well, they (meaning the military) knew what they were getting into when they signed up." I lost all respect for her right there. Her credibility was shot.

"They knew what they were getting into..." Another common saying, once again not true.

As my husband, a retired Army First Sergeant, says, if soldiers really did know beforehand what the military was like, they just might not sign up at all. I thought of comparing this to my experience as a mother. If, for instance, I had known about labor, would I have been willing to do it? Maybe- I did go on to have five kids. But I certainly did not know about it when I "signed up". In the throes of giving birth to my first son, I carried on quite a bit; some other women in the labor room wailed and cried out. saying things like "I've changed my mind!" or "I want to go home!" The doctor that was attending me, in a voice dripping with disgust, said "Will you hush!?" Thanks, Doc. It wasn't appropriate then, and it wouldn't be appropriate now, to criticize me for complaining that it hurt, or to say that I should have known. The thing is, once you're there, you're committed. Lots of soldiers, at the time of the Gulf War, initially panicked at the thought of actually having to be involved in a conflict. But they had to go anyway, and they went, and they served, despite their all-too-human fears.

It seems to me that a statement like "They knew what they were getting into..." uttered by a person safely and permanently ensconced in civilianhood, is just a way make it all ok- "it" being the use and abuse of the military man or woman who volunteered. Is his or her life more important or valuable or worthy of consideration than , for instance, those in the past who were drafted? "They knew..." A way to assuage the guilt, or justify the cavalier attitude of those who are in the business of sending troops off to war.

Well, it's not ok. Don't get me wrong, I was in favor of our military being called out to defend us against terrorism, if such a thing can be done. I don't want anyone killing Muslim children-or anyone's children, for that matter- but it seems that they give us no option. Forced into a choice, I will choose my grandchildren over theirs any day. Sorry, that's the way I feel.

But here's the point- military "personnel" are flesh- and-blood people with feelings and fears and hopes for the future and children to raise. They are often called "kids" but many of them are like my husband and son; my husband served in the Gulf War at the age of forty-five and my son, who is now nearly forty, will be returning to the conflict next year for his third tour. They are not different from the rest of us except that "more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life." They are Heroes. Their service is SACRED. We who do not serve have no right to judge them or dismiss their concerns.

But many elected officials- and some of those politicians who wear the uniform- feel like the rest of us- including the military-exist just to serve them and their agendas regardless of what's best for the nation. Military folks will go proudly and do whatever is asked of them- as always- but it's a disgrace that those who ask so seldom consider carefully or pray about their decisions. And then when their support is required at home, they turn away, saying "They knew."

on Jun 21, 2008

Okay, I'll go first.  I agree.  Right after the announcement was made that the 7th Corps would be pulling out of Germany and going to DESERT SHIELD, I had many conversations with soldiers who would try to make me understand that they didn't sign up for war...

It had been 17 years without a war to run off to...not counting Panama and Grenada, and no one thought we were going to have any more big deal wars ever again.  There is a great scene in "Private Benjamin" where Goldie complains that "...this isn't the Army I signed up for...where are the condos?"  The soldiers today are joining up knowing there is a very real war, a couple of them in fact, and they most likely will be involved in one or more of them.  But they still don't know it all.  And even if they did, it doesn't mean they signed up to further some political agenda...they are signing up because they believe the job needs doing.  Those who have the authority to send those soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines have an awesome responsibility to insure they are exercising that authority correctly and judiciously.

on Jun 24, 2008

hey, mama!  bump

on Jun 24, 2008
Great article. I agree 100%.

My husband is actually (surprisingly) very negative about PTSD. He feels it is a sign of weakness and over-diagnosed (or over self-diagnosed for one's own benefit). He's a medic, and saw and experienced some fairly traumatic stuff in Iraq (and to a much lesser degree in Afghanistan). I know that he is affected by it and I know that there were some things that DID bother him. But his outward attitude is, "It's what I signed up for. How am I going to cry about it now? Oh, I'm traumatized by what I saw! Bullsh*t."

I think that's kind of the same thing, although I can't convince him of that. It's unfair to say that it's weakness or unreasonable, or worse fake, to claim PTSD just because you knew you would possibly go to war (and all that implies). He is particularly skeptical of medics who claim all sorts of problems because he feels they were trained for it.

Working on a dying pig or studying traumatic injury does not, IMO, prepare you for the reality of working on your friend who is missing part of his head, nor does mock up field training prepare you for evac-ing casualties while under fire. Of course, this is wife musings and I have never experienced either the prep or the actual service, so maybe I am way, way off. I just think it's possible for a Soldier to be prepared and gung-ho and still be damaged by war because I don't think you can know how you will react, and you can't predict the situations you might find yourself in.

That is not to say that my husband is a heartless jerk. I think HIS way of coping is to be the bad-ass and shrug it all off.

Anyways, my apologies for going a little off topic, but this is something that comes up in my home every so often and I really think it parallels the "they knew what they signed up for thing".

I don't think you CAN know and further, even willingly volunteering to do it doesn't make it hurt or suck any less. Soldiers are people, not robots.
on Jun 24, 2008

Thanks for being so thoughtful in your reply.  I wasn't thinking about the military being part of this problem but it is.

" Soldiers are people, not robots."

Ignoring this fact and your limitations can lead to disaster.  Better to be realistic and not pretend to be invulnerable.

Thanks again, I enjoyed hearing from you.