[I wasn’t going to post this one, because I don’t care particularly for the tone. But a comment on the earlier “Learning the Enemy’s Language” post made me think I should post it anyway. If I seem like I’m slamming veterans as a whole in my recent posts, let this veteran put that appearance to rest with this one. Especially if you deal with veterans in your classroom, this might help. I think people who’ve only lived school lives are particularly prone to the type of prejudice I describe below. I experienced it myself when I took post-graduate courses during and after my army service.
It’s no secret that schools generally fail to produce an informed citizenry. Military experience, on the other hand (or life, in other words, instead of books and teachers), has a funny way of suddenly making one want to learn politics, history, current affairs, and such. That’s a preview of the below.]
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Your script when you see a veteran may read something like this: This person is probably pro-war, thoughtlessly patriotic, Republican, Conservative, Christian, an unreflective robot, a racist, sexist, culturally deprived, unfeeling and uneducated individual.
I shared that script in my academic/civilian days. Then I challenged it by spending five years in the US Army. Based on that experience, here is my advice:
If you ever have veterans in your class (or anywhere else), their pacifism may surprise you. Don’t assume that you know about them based on their military background. You have only thought about what they have lived. You have never faced deployment to a conflict, never wondered if you would return from it to see your family, friends, and loved ones. You have never grappled on the ground with the political reasoning that put you there. You have never hopped into a humvee with a map showing you the suspected minefields you have to drive through to perform your mission. You have never experienced situations in which the unconscionable behavior of your fellow soldiers toward non-combatants or enemies perhaps transformed your value system on a deep cognitive-emotional level. You have never lost someone to war and wondered why.
Don’t assume your white male veterans are racist, sexist, or classist. You have probably never experienced as diverse, egalitarian and, yes, socialist a society as the US military. Men and women of all ethnic, regional, religious, and cultural backgrounds—even privileged ones—are forced on a daily basis to transcend their differences and bond into effective teams for their very survival. Soldiers’ stereotypes of those different from them are quickly shattered when they observe these others in action. Americans (and resident non-Americans) share quarters, classes, camps, duties, and recreational activities. Interracial relationships are common.
Don’t assume that veterans know less than you do about political and world events. What you have only studied, they have often lived—and, because they were living it, independently read about and studied – possibly as much as you.
Don’t assume that veterans are thoughtless patriots. The Vietnam generation is not the only one that emerged from military service critically politicized.
The Web Legacy Series So Far:
1. Fear and Trembling at Camp Joy: Unborn Again
2. The Hulk Leads to Hamlet: Reading Despite School
3. Of Jocks and Fags: The High School Bullying Years
4. In the Crumbling Temple of the Dead White Males: The Beatnik College Years, pt. 1
5. Human Sacrifice: The College Years, pt. 2
6. Learning the Enemy’s Language: The Army Years, part 1
7. Teaching Killing: The Army Years, part 2