By Elmer Ellsworth
In the first of an ongoing series, Elmer Ellsworth discusses the Veteran’s Perspective and post-military life through a combat veteran’s eyes.
Preface – Bedrock Principles
Perhaps it is a common bond amongst all combat veterans that upon return to their home and civilian life they soon feel like strangers in their own land. When I was young, I thought this was something that was somewhat unique to the Vietnam Era Veterans who trained me and to whom I listened. Present day realities, however, provide numerous reminders of how the latest greatest generation of combat veterans are also becoming more and more like strangers in their own land.
The experiences that are common to modern era Veterans are so uncommon amongst the rest of American society today that a rather interesting “phenomenon” has taken root – it is the solidification of a unique attitude or way of regarding the world … a “Veteran’s Perspective.” After reading many posts, blogs, books and articles about Veterans and Security issues, it is clear to me that this Veteran’s Perspective is worth trying to consolidate or condense into a single viewpoint.
So, this is what I will attempt to articulate through my blog posts on USDefenseWatch.com, in what I hope and expect will be much shorter articles going forward. But, let me start by introducing a few of the common themes that I believe are the basis of the “Veteran’s Perspective.”
Core Values – Today’s Veterans are all the product of a 100% volunteer force built upon a deep rooted sense of professionalism that comes only from a strong culture of selfless service (or team first attitude) and strict accountability and individual responsibility. The private sector talks about these values, and in many cases similar principals are held up; however, in the military these principals are truly the steroid versions. This obviously has a tremendous impact on creating a common way of looking at things that differs greatly from the perspective that can be provided by an Ivy League or even top 500 college education. It’s not something that can be truly appreciated by somebody who has never experienced the military. And, for better or for worse, it is one of the reasons why a person remains a Marine, Soldier, Sailor, Airmen etc. until the day they die, regardless of how long they actually served.
Media & Hollywood – One of the first ways that the Veteran’s Perspective has been distinctly segregated from the “civilian” viewpoint is likely the result of how veterans are depicted and how our Post 9/11 conflicts have been reported. Or put another way, a vast majority of Veterans do not accept the disparate and somewhat incomprehensible depiction of today’s Veterans (or lack of depiction thereof) by mainstream media and Hollywood. In short, after 14 years of combat, thousands of casualties, 12 new recipients of the Medal of Honor and hundreds if not thousands of battles, engagements and campaigns that have been fought since September 11, 2001 – and the numerous books and articles written by Veterans — yet we still have seen only a handful of attempts to accurately depict Americans fighting against our real enemies in Hollywood and mainstream media? With all due respect to the producers of Zero Dark Thirty (a story that no politics could withhold), Hurtlocker (Not a product of Hollywood), and Lone Survivor, Hollywood still prefers showing Americans fighting only aliens, robots, vampires, etc. instead of telling real world stories about our Post 9/11 Veteran’s accomplishments. Putting to the side the civilian public’s fascination with Special Forces, SEALS, Delta, etc. that were the focus of Lone Survivor and American Sniper, there has not been much of an attempt to tell the story of the ordinary American soldier, let alone an effort to truly understand that experience. Similarly, most Veterans do not appreciate being depicted as victims who have been misled, mistreated and with misguided loyalties.
Distaste for Politics & Politicians – Yes, this is a generalization as there are many among us who may enjoy and perhaps even excel at “politics,” but for the most part Veterans often do not mix well with the political partisan culture that has overtaken our society. At the same time, modern Veterans appreciate, perhaps more than most other citizens, the reality of the world. We know evil exits and understand that the most dangerous threat to the American way of life is our political divisiveness. We have seen how quickly support for our mission (if not for the troops themselves) can be eroded. We know that present day America is so divided internally that confronting evil with military force in the future will be even harder than it has been in the past. We know first-hand how difficult it will be to persevere and succeed in any effort that cannot be ended very quickly – as in weeks or at most several months. We know that that is an unreasonable standard. Yet, at the same time, we know that our enemies do not share our short sighted or weak stomached approach to conflicts. We also know that they do not follow 4 year election cycles or 6 year market cycles. We have seen our enemy fighting not for their victory but for their children’s or grandchildren’s victory. Meanwhile, on domestic issues, we have seen politicians from both sides of the aisle make ridiculous promises and commitments. As Veterans, we have been pandered to, misled and lied to as much as any other “group.”
Appreciative Realists – Talk to any combat veteran and you will likely immediately sense that same perspective of your relative who survived cancer. Veterans tend to appreciate what we do have instead of yearn for things that we are lacking. We don’t expect things to be handed to us and respect those who have worked hard to achieve success. We know the euphoria of coming home and surviving is often replaced with an emptiness that cannot be described. But most of us do not expect anybody to solve this problem for us. We know we are imperfect, but also know perfection is a myth.
Patriotism – Regardless of one’s political orientation, Veterans share a love for their country that is unshakeable. Maybe even to the point of idealism. To a Veteran, the Flag transcends race, religion, orientation, etc. Veterans have all been thru that process of getting past what a person looks like or how one appears and intuitively understand that a team is only as good as it’s weakest link – and that weakest link must be strengthened and protected, sometimes without simply cutting it out. Most Veterans can think back upon some of the finest Americans they ever served with and know that they believed in, followed and supported those people without ever knowing or caring if that person was a “Liberal” or a “Conservative.” We found ways to build consensus and appreciate the diversity of viewpoints within a group to solve problems (yes, that is shocking to some civilians but consensus and diversity are things that really do exist and matter in the military). So, we expect our civilian / corporate leaders to do the same.
Post 9/11 Understanding – Many Americans are still struggling in understanding this new world order (or lack thereof) and are uncertain in how best to protect ourselves and our interests. While there appear to be many, perhaps even no shortage of experts – some who actually have an informed viewpoint based on extensive academic studies. But many Veterans have dedicated their lives to these types of matters. They became professionals and immersed themselves in these difficult topics thru both education and first-hand experience. It is this first-hand experience that sets them apart and makes their Perspective very unique. The fact that this experience is often de-valued by many people who do not have it, is a further contributor to the uniqueness and character of the Veteran’s Perspective.
These are a few of the “bedrock” principals that combine to form the Veteran’s Perspective. It is a Perspective that can offer some unique and compelling thoughts for our Nation. It is a Perspective which is often not provided a microphone to speak into unless it is willing and ready to conform to and side with one of the two dominating partisan political perspectives. Over time I expect that we may explore some of these bedrock principals in greater detail, but for now it is simply my point to explain the common foundation of the Veterans Perspective.
One final point that I think needs to be made upfront about this Veterans Perspective. I am NOT suggesting that Veterans are special or that we are all knowing or that we deserve more respect or expect the world around us to accommodate our greatness. I actually think that at times Veterans need to stop behaving as if every issue should resolve around us. Just because some consider Kaitlyn Jenner a hero does not mean that we need to throw in everybody’s face the fact that we have seen forms of heroism that most others have not. While this Veterans Perspective may provide an interesting insight on many matters, we must recognize that in the end it is just that – a perspective. There are many, many forms of selfless service, courage and commitment. Similarly, of course there are exceptions to every group when making generalizations. Diversity of perspectives is exactly what makes a team, unit or Nation strong. As such, however, the Veterans Perspective needs to be equally represented.
So, I applaud and support USDefenseWatch.com for devoting a website to the task of addressing some of these common issues that Veterans are concerned about in a non-partisan and “non-aligned” way. I chose this site for the home of this Veteran Perspective because it is beholden to NO special interests and has no political agenda whatsoever. I look forward to contributing to this site by providing a periodic view of some of the topics discussed on this website and providing my take of the Veterans Perspective on that subject. Please feel free to comment and share your thoughts and reactions. And, please feel free to let us know if there is a topic on which you would like to learn the Veteran’s Perspective.