A question was asked on the social media website Quora. Another veteran expressed his frustration over trying to rejoin society after his combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. I deeply sympathized with his frustrations and felt the need to reach out.
How do I deal with the bitterness that has been festering inside of me since I’ve returned from the Middle East? How do I stomach listening to ‘patriots’ who talk about things they know nothing of? How will I ever fit back in to our society after hiding in my apartment for the 5 years since I’ve returned from my final deployment? How do I deal with being so lost? How can I live with this anger for my countrymen who sent me to two wars and then refuse to pay thier taxes while carrying so much debt? All while watching American Idol and wearing a “I support the Troops” Tshirt, what does that even mean anyway?
Welcome to the club.
I’ve been where you are now and there are many of us who are frustrated. After four years in the Marines and two tours in Iraq followed by my biggest challenge, going to college with my 18 year old counterparts, I decided something: I hate Americans. That feeling isn’t really as severe anymore because I eventually mellowed out, but I do feel for you.
During this period I wrote these answers that might help you see that you’re not alone. Read them, see if they make you feel better.
In them you’ll see a unique amalgam of intense pride, disillusionment, patriotism, shame, self-sacrifice, self-righteousness, arrogance, entitlement, and an ounce of old fashioned chivalry. Sound familiar?
Warning: People who have never served in the United States Military will notappreciate the rest of this answer. Don’t get pissy. I warned you. Having said that, there are a few things the person asking the question should let go of if you want to move on.
1) How do I stomach listening to ‘patriots’ who talk about things they know nothing of?
Did you ever have that one E-3 in your unit who just thought he was really smart? So smart in fact that he tried to recreate a scenario he read in The Darwin Awards because he just knew that he could make it work? These are called idiots. You remember, the ID-10T’s. They are morons on a good day and in their best day all they do is talk. The political ones you will run into on the outside are no different. Most of them are just self-righteous know-it-alls who really love their country. Maybe, or maybe they just hate all the people who see the world in a different way. Fundamentalists don’t just wear turbans and the sooner you realize that the better. They all say the same thing, “I really wanted to serve, but my [ random pissant disability ] wouldn’t let me in.” And for some reason, seem to think that entitles them to some sort of glorified status among veterans. I don’t get it either. Stop trying. Just avoid eye contact. Smile and nod. Walk away.
2) How will I ever fit back into our society after hiding in my apartment for the 5 years since I’ve returned from my final deployment?
You won’t. Society isn’t all that great anyway. I went through a recluse phase, too. It isn’t productive. The best advice I have is to try to find a veterans group where you can vent your frustrations with an equally annoyed bunch of old farts, so that you heal in safe way among a fraternity of people who understand you. It really does help to talk it out with people who have been there. Even if they didn’t exactly go through what you did, they have experienced stuff like it or at least have thought about it far more than a healthy person should. You’ll need their experience and their wisdom. Your friends won’t get you. Your family won’t even get you. All they can offer are cliches and Dr. Phil nonsense advice. I wish I had done it sooner. I stayed angry for way too long and it cost dearly in the relationships I could have made as well as in my career.
Besides that, what you need to do is realize that you aren’t supposed to “fit back in”. You’re special and not in that Barney the Dinosaur sort of way. People respect you because you have done stuff that blows their minds, or at least their stereotypes of you blows their freaking minds. In some circles, you can walk in and command a room just with your presence alone. Warning though, eventually they get to know you and you don’t live up to their stereotypes, so they get bored and will want to throw you away because you somehow failed to live up to their impossible expectations. Sorry about that. This paragraph was supposed to be uplifting.
That said, you do have a lot of skills that most people don’t. You have a lot of character traits that others don’t. Values, ethics, ideals and expectations; the whole shabang. Your problem is that you suck at dealing with people, certain kinds of people anyway, and I am sorry to say, those certain kinds of people are everywhere. You are going to need at least, in my experience, two years to learn how to fill in the personality gaps between you now and normal for the rest of humanity before you can fake it well enough to happily work at a job with people.
3) How do I deal with being so lost?
Veterans of Foreign Wars – They have a waiting list that’s a year shorter than seeking counseling through the VA. It is a sad joke, because it is true. You should try to talk to people. Old vets are cool because you just hang out and they don’t mind being there when stuff gets real. If you start crying, civilians want to label you and run for the door. Old vets, just remembered when they cried. Sometimes they give you a hug. Sometimes they tell you to suck it up. They also know how you feel and can relate in a way that reminds you, “That’s right, I’m normal. I just went through a really crappy time in my life.” At the point where you seem to be, you might need to get started on the process to talk to a professional. I had a friend who was really messed-up after Iraq and it really helped him. It just takes dropping the macho, “I’m too tough to speak to anyone about my head problems.” or “There are people worse off than me,” or “I didn’t really experience anything actually traumatic.” It’s only your life you’re wasting if you don’t.
4) How can I live with this anger for my countrymen who sent me to two wars and then refuse to pay their taxes while carrying so much debt?
There is something that I really want you to realize and it will help you get through a lot. Your countrymen never sent you to Iraq or Afghanistan. You did. The United States is an all volunteer service. There is no draft. There is no obligatory service and there is no conscription. No one forced you to go to MEPS and no one held your hand up while you swore the Oath. Judging by the time frame, you also probably knew there was a war going on already. From that point until your DD-214 you gave your word that whatever happened, you would fulfill your promise to serve the Commander-in-Chief, the chosen representative of the combined will of these fifty states according the Constitution of the United States. If war was going to happen, it wasn’t the fault of any one of them, not even all of them. If you feel that you suffered from war, you have to remember that it was because you chose to go. I’m sorry to be real like that, but you have be responsible for that part or you are just going to get more and more bitter about what others did to you, when really, it wasn’t “others'” fault.
As for the “and then refuse to pay their taxes while carrying so much debt?” have you ever read the book Starship Troopers? It’s a really great military sci-fi for military folk. It was written by a former Naval officer who really seemed to capture the feel of people in the service… four hundred years from now, anyway. One part I remember most is that, in that world, the only people who can vote are the veterans. It isn’t that they are the smartest or even the most qualified. The reason they are the only group allowed to vote is that they, alone, have proven the one trait that should be a requirement of citizenship, the willingness to sacrifice for their society. They don’t make poor choices which are self serving because they, alone, have actually invested real skin and blood into their society and they won’t break it with a black hole entitlement programs, an unproductive criminal corrections system, forgiveness for the chronically ineffective, and enabling hand out programs. No other group, by virtue of their existence, has proven they have a vested interest in the future of their society, which they are willing to defend, besides the veterans. We don’t live in that world, but I understand what Heinlein was trying to say. You’re going to have to accept that there are just so, so very many people out there who are complete and utter leeches on society who have a vote no less powerful than yours. That is because we live in a democracy where merit, ability, education, and social mobility are traits that don’t really matter, just how many friends you have. Perhaps I should have said that democracy was based off of the belief of the fundamental equality inherent to all God’s children. Alas, I didn’t and I am sure your know why. Until the day when Heinlein’s fascist utopia/draconian nightmare (depending on your point view) becomes real, we are just going to have to accept this fact, too; worthless people matter just as much as the greatest in a democracy. For better or worse, this is how it will be in any sort of perceivable future. As yet though, this has been the most successful setup for self governance, so far, so it can’t be that bad. As I have already said, you also volunteered because, at one point, either because you were naive or really, really idealistic, you believed that that democracy was worth defending. If you still value it, you have to let go of the anger toward the idiots that also get to vote even though the have never and likely will never contribute anything but deficit to our society.
5) All while watching American Idol and wearing a “I support the Troops” T-shirt, what does that even mean anyway?
Americans, in general, are pretty self-centered creatures happy to sit on a couch and wait for, or even demand, whatever in the world there is to entertain them. Many will live their whole lives without progressing the human race forward one inch. That really terrifies me, but they have different values than you do. That’s why you joined the military; to do something heroic, or something important, something adventurous or just something different, or whatever, but they didn’t. Many of them are just worthless blobs demanding more intake of whatever gives them their individual fix. Call it American Idol, heroin, weed, sex, politics, money, work, or whatever. They just need whatever it is that makes them happy and that is all they will ever know.
That’s why when they faced the risk of their blissful happiness and their precious ability to consume entertainment at a breakneck pace was blown out of the water for the first time in sixty years, all anyone could do was thank a Marine for going out and doing the nasty stuff that kept their right to a 50″ surround sound maintained. That is seriously the only reason that many of them do it. They got scared of living in a world not as blissful as America in the 1990’s and the military suddenly seemed like the only group of people who would make that happen again.
And then what happens? They watch the news and hear that we are at war. They know a guy who went to war. Well, they know someone whose brother is in the war. Or maybe he is just in the Air Force. They don’t really remember, but they sure do feel like they are at war. No they aren’t rationing. No they aren’t planting victory gardens. No they aren’t recycling pig fat, panty hose, or iron shaving. No they aren’t buying war bonds or even enduring any sort of increased taxation to pay for this war, but they sure do feel the effects of that war, goshdarnit.
The fact is that many are simply saying “We support our troops” because you went to war and they didn’t have to. Others are simply just saying it because of social obligation. Nobody wants to be that guy who doesn’t support the troops, you know, like the entire country after Vietnam. They sure didn’t in that war, when absolutely no one thought it was important. Then veterans were spit upon when they came home. At least my generation still gets handshakes, social prestige and from time to time a real, true to life thankful person will buy me a coke after they find out what I did.
I do want to go on record to say that most people aren’t really the problem. The problem is a minority. There are about 10% of the people, of no particular race, religion, creed, or color, who come together as individuals to form a collection of the most loathsome, despicable, and worthless human beings imaginable. Not to themselves, of course. To themselves, they are the most magnanimous human beings on the face of the planet and worthy of all that was given to them, and so much more. It is only people who see things through your point of view that they are so horrible. (Me too, by the way.) You have to realize though, that they are a minority, a small number of people who command a massive amount of your attention because you feel very passionately about certain things which you have given so much for and have a certain set of values which many do not truly appreciate or even fathom. Once you learn to adjust your blinders during times when you don’t want to deal with those kinds of people which bug the crap out of you, you’ll start appreciating a lot of other people around that aren’t such oxygen thieves.
Wars are going to happen. Sometimes they will happen for reasons we say are good because the alternatives are probably worse. Other times, incompetent officials elected by incompetent voters will start them. At those times men and women who are willing to do whatever their leaders ask of them, in service of a country they are really proud of, will have to carry out the acted will of the United States. You already did that. As someone else who did, I am sincerely thankful for you doing that and I am very sorry that you are going through “the suck” right now. But you owe it to yourself, and to the rest of us veterans, to get better. There is a festering horde of worthless no-goods out there becoming more and more dependent upon the almighty “They” for absolutely everything in their world. You really are one of the few people out there with unique skill and value set, buried underneath all that pent up frustration and angst which we all share. Get some help and go talk to someone. You really are blowing the best years of your life being pissed off and it isn’t doing anyone any good, at all. Once you correct yourself, you’ll be happy you did. I promise.
Sgt Jon Davis (inactive since 2008)
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