Breaking: Veterans are People too

VeteransRecently, the Veteran community has been forced to fight back on a disturbing narrative: Veterans are dangerous, violent people that society should be wary of. It doesn’t take much for some media outlets to push this agenda either. It seems all they need is one person, who happened to serve in the military at any time, to commit a heinous act, and the sensationalist headlines driving high ratings start pouring in.

Alex Horton tweet

Today, The Opinion Pages of the New York Times posted a story by Kathleen Belew that claims “the return of [Veterans] from combat appears to correlate more closely with Klan membership than any other historical factor,” and linked the murder of three innocent people in Kansas by one man to a generation of Vietnam Veterans.

Even though she admits “the number of Vietnam [Veterans] in that movement was small” and “a vast majority of veterans are neither violent nor mentally ill” she continues disparaging Veterans in general. Ms. Belew interprets information from a nine-page Department of Homeland Security report, which essentially connects extremist views to disillusionment and warns that people who feel ostracized by society can be susceptible to recruitment by radical groups (something we see in other aspects of society), and uses it to promote her view that Veterans are inherently volatile due to their military service and have contributed to the growth of white-supremacist groups in the United States.

Of course hate groups with paramilitary ambitions seek out those with military experience to swell their ranks. I suppose it’s also worthy to mention that large corporations seek out IRS trained accountants to help them with taxes, or political lobbying firms recruit former government executives to help them pass legislation.

The question that Ms. Belew doesn’t ask is why these Veterans felt disillusioned in the first place, and were vulnerable to predatory recruitment. She ignores the social climate around them at the time of their return. She’s been studying these radical groups since 2006, but as a historian she should have dug deeper to find the root cause of this anomaly. Instead she opted for an alarming story.

Imagine, for a second, if she had done the same thing to any other group of people. What would that look like?

Brandon Friedman tweets

Whether she is aware of it or not, Ms. Belew is doing great harm with this piece. She may think she is informing her audience, but she’s actually perpetuating vicious stereotypes that make it harder for Veterans to reintegrate successfully into their communities in the first place. What does she think employers should tell a Veteran applying for work after reading her post? “Sorry, but I can’t hire a person who is one white-supremacist pamphlet away from joining the Klan”?

Articles and headlines like these are the reason why many Veterans take great care in disclosing their service status at job interviews and resumes.

To be quite honest, we’re getting tired of reading stories like these, and not just because we’re Veterans who served in combat, or even because correlating military service and deviancy is irresponsible. No, it’s because some people see the exploitation of combat Veterans as a way to push clicks, likes and shares. In Belew’s piece, Veterans are made out to be potential monsters. Next week, we’re knights in shining armor.

There are 22 million Veterans in this country, and we just wish somebody in the media would make up their minds on whether we’re all heroes (we’re not) or whether we’re all ticking time bombs (we’re not). Do I clap for the returning Veteran at the airport, or hide my family? Which is it? What story are we telling this week?

The truth is, for better or worse, our community is as diverse as the general American population. The majority of us want nothing more than to be productive members of our communities, and while there will be some bad apples among us (like in any demographic), it shouldn’t diminish our overall contributions to society.

We agree in Belew’s assessment that “It would be irresponsible to overlook the high rates of combat trauma among the 2.4 million Americans who have served in our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the full impact of which has not yet materialized.” However, it is even further irresponsible to allude that Veterans with combat trauma are joining far-right organizations en masse.

So let’s get a few things straight: Veterans are not inherently murderous extremists or righteous saints, they are and have always been just like most Americans who seek a good job, safe community and the opportunity for them and their families to succeed in this country. Do not let the deranged actions of a few who happen to be Veterans define the entire Veteran community.

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26 Comments to “Breaking: Veterans are People too”

  1. Steve says:

    Why should we expect a self-loathing white liberal who hides behind the walls of academia to do anything that adds any value to the world. Theirs is to point their stainless fingers at everyone else and tell them how wrong they are. Shallow doesn’t even begin to describe people like Ms. Belew. I would like to know her background. (ie: did mommy and daddy pay for school or did she actually earn her own way through?) Glad people like us pick up the rifle and defend her right to be judgmental.

  2. Veterans don’t send Veterans to WAR. Politicians Do.
    Veterans are the end result of the failure of Diplomacy and sometimes Greed by our so called leaders in Washington, whom most have won popularity contests in their states not on their leadership abilities.
    If you ask most Veterans, after experiencing the ugliness and Devastation of war, they will tell you they would be the first ones to try to reach an amicable solution to a problem, since long after the politician is gone, the scars never go away for the Veteran. From the Day you take the Oath your life is in the hands of the career Politicians and the special interest groups. Veterans have the Guts and Balls to Carrie out what ever they are asked to do, even if it’s miss guided unfortunately. The next time there is a major crisis, call a Journalist

    • TripleB says:

      Well spoken!

    • ROBERT says:

      After rising from a draftee in the vietnam period (1963+) to field grade officer, I realized that war is something that politicians do with other men’s sons.

      They (properly, under our dying constitution) would declare war, and then the defense department mobilizes

      Sometimes, “war” is not declared, and the President, as Commander in Chief calls the shot (s).

      The irony in all of this is that Congress and The President cause our young men to be mobilized and sent into harms way. They never anticipate an “end game”. And they are totally unprepared to field the expenses — the latent expenses — of war: The cost of treatment, initially, and then long term care for so many disabled sons and daughters of this great nation.

      Now we hear that “soldiers and other members of our nation’s defenses” are overpaid.

      As a Company commander in Viet-Nam, with the lives of 120 men to worry about, I was shot and always in harms way 24/7/365 for less than $300 a month. That is about a third of what I was making in management per month at the time I was drafted, for
      5 days a week, 8-10 hours a day!

      Yeah, the members of the country’s first defense line are overpaid! (If you believe that,
      you can go suck a pickle.)

      Now the country draws down its Armed Forces to pre WWII levels – in a world as unsafe as 1938-1939. At the same time that we are shuttering down our Armed Forces, I read that most of the federal agencies are essentially building private armies
      (google: hundreds of sites report this buildup — 5 rounds of hollowpoint ammo – for EVERY CITIZEN IN THE NATION!) Are we politically turning on ourselves?

      I have to say — that we do not take care of our wounded warriors. I am in reciept of at least 5 non-profits seeking to help veterans. It is a sad state of affairs when we cannot take care of our own. General George Washington said that a nation that cannot care for its defenders in their time of need will not long endure.

      • SGT John T says:

        HOOAH !!! Thank you. Thats what all these D.C. and Veterans Administration Folks need to know. I have been in so much pain now for about a year and a half waiting on an appointment for a growth inside my stomach. I called again this morning and the clinic said we’ll call you right back like they always do. It’s now been almost 5 hours today. Still no call back. I hurt so bad due to whatever this may be. So, I called to make an outside appointment and they said they need a referral from the VA Doctor. What the heck? I live in Arizona and go to the Veterans Medical Center in Tucson. I recently heard about the 40 deaths at the Phoenix VA. Looks like I’m on the same secret list too. However in Tucson just down the road from Phoenix. My wife is very upset as well as myself, I reckon I’ll either die from what ever this is. Or live with this horrible pain for the rest of my days as an Honorable Veteran.

  3. Mark says:

    Amen Brother

  4. Dr Daniel Muffoletto ND says:

    There is no greater sacrifice then to lay down your life for another.
    The armed forces are trained to protect through, training in mental,spiritual, and physical weapons.
    When they leave the military, there could be a better transitional process to assure integration to a civilian society.

    It would be interesting to see how many of nonwhite veterans come back and join hate groups of any kind.
    Is it just the Caucasians ?
    Do African Americans join the the Muslim Brotherhood, or Black Panthers? Do the Hispanics join La Raza.
    Do the Asians join the Tongs, Triads, or Yakuza?
    How about mixed ethnicities?
    Do they join Klu Klux Klan, and the. Black Supremacist groups?

    If there is a void it will be filled.
    Why not fill the veterans with hope, and jobs?
    I

    • Wzrd1 says:

      Well, to judge from her hatched job of veterans, the African-American veterans must also be joining the KKK.
      Or they’ll start a lone wolf KKK chapter.

      Of course, she insults every man and woman dedicating their lives in protection to our once great nation, as the graphic with the story implies that one in fourteen are nazis.

      Lord, but these types of articles and attitudes make me sorry that I redeployed home after I retired from the Army.

    • wayne murray says:

      intence combat makes for extreme memories,vets need help from others.greed stops that from taking place.soldiers are disposable. the honor of the vet is best viewed from one’s spirit.go to war and you face a life time of extreme risk.

  5. Ed Miller says:

    I served in 1969, Viet Nam, and out of all the veterans that was in Nam I would like to ask how many veterans have done damage to the american people? Yes a hand full have done bad things but how many americans have done the bad things that did not serve? I think maybe Kathleen Belew should go back to school and relearn her history in the U.S.A. and remember Kathleen it is because of us veterans that fought for your right to write anything you want even if it is not true. When we put on our uniforms we are one family and it doesn’t matter what color or beliefs we have.

  6. It is repeatedly and unfortunately true that many see our mil/vet community as a population “group” and not as fellow professionals.

    Steve kubiszewski
    PTSDA

  7. JOSE MATEO says:

    I AM WITH THE TERM THAT WE THE VETERANS STILL BEEN PEOPLE , HUMANS THAT FEELS AND FEELS MORE THAN OTHERS BECAUSE WE DEFEND THIS GREAT COUNTRY INSIDE , OUTSIDE , WERE EVER FOR THE PROTECTION OF OUR OWN FREEDOM,SAFETY AND WELL BEING PUTTING OUR LIVES TO MET THIS GOALS. FOR THIS AND OTHER ATTRIBUTES MADE US PEOPLE BUT A VERY SPECIAL PEOPLE. WHEN YOU HAVE A FAMILY REUNION AND A BBQ THINK ON THE VETERANS THAT HAVE TO LET THEIR FAMILIES OUR FRONT LINE MY RESPECTS TO THEM I AM PROUD OF THEM, AND YOU WHEN ARE YOU DOING THIS MAYBE AND IS A SOLDIER IN A FOX HOLE GETTING SHOT FOR U AND YOUR FAMILY SO THINK ON THAT. EVERY ONE COULD BE A VETERAN SO TREAT US LIKE WE STILL BE PEOPLE AN SPECIAL ONE. WE HAVE TO BE IN THE SAME MUSIC AND HELP EACH OTHER TO BE LISTEN IN OUR DAILY FIGHT.
    GOD BLESS AMERICA ,THE VETERANS AND OUR FAMILES

  8. Kenneth Barr says:

    The op-ed column that appeared in the NY Times by Kathleen Belew was another in a long line of attempts to assign easy answers to complex problems. It wasn’t that long ago that when someone went on a rampage at an office in this country, it was said that that individual was “going postal” This was a reference to a very few postal and ex-postal workers committing acts of violence in the workplace. What now? It would seem that Ms. Belew believes that mass shootings and bombings should be described along the lines of “veterans’ vengeance.” If such a notion wasn’t fundamentally offensive it would qualify as the height of absurdity. However, this attitude seems to be gaining ground in certain areas of our society, particularly in areas of social work such as child protection. I have been out of the Army almost 25 years, yet a NYC ACS caseworker, when she discovered I am a veteran, immediately asked me in an accusatory tone, “But you were discharged, weren’t you?” This attitude, one of suspicion and mistrust, bedevils veterans in today’s polarized society. Finally, I wonder how Ms.Belew accounts for the overwhelming number of veterans who have witnessed such atrocities as the Nazi Concentration Camps first hand and did everything they could to arrest those responsible and bring them to justice. As a NY Times subscriber, I read one or two paragraphs, discovered the stereotypical attitude that it displayed, and quickly moved to something far more informative.

  9. Mick O'Malley says:

    Belew is fishing for notoriety through response. In her fantasy she no doubt sees thousand’s of bearded combat veteran ‘outliers’ chanting “FU Belew”, when in fact tens of thousands of us could care less. We all fought for her freedom of expression. If this is an uneducated woman trying to sound educated, I accept her naivete. If on the other hand, she is an educated writer, I respectfully submit both her research, and subsequent article are woeful, and therefore not worthy of a Patriot’s response.
    Just read it and laugh….

    • Wzrd1 says:

      Whilst, I did have that bearded response mentally, I was also busily reading the article critically.
      What I saw was a house of horrors in logical failures, strawman arguments and everything short of reducto ad hitlerum. I imagine given a few more lines, she’d have fallen that far.
      That any educated American can fail so horribly in basic logical thinking is frightening, for it bodes ill for the future of our once great nation.
      I say once great because it’s readily apparent that our educational system is a shambles, as is our mental health care system.

    • Chief says:

      Well said. I spent waaaaaaaaaaay too much words/time/energy saying just this, brother. Well said.

  10. Sgt joel welsh says:

    I am an Iraq war and Bosnian combat vet.
    I gave ten years serving my country, and when I went to leave for Iraq the first time…
    There were many that told me to be careful. There were a few that told me to be careful, keep your weapon cleaner than you keep yourself, and watch your buddies back… Cause he’ll be watching yours. To make sure I always have more ammunition than I have cigarettes or food. And most of all- that there would be somebody back home thinking of me. Not all the same sentiments at once, but all from the same source.

    Vietnam veterans. Friends who never got the return and respect they deserved.

    The only ones who actually told me to my face that they cared me.
    Does that sound like racist white supremacist ranting?

    When the person speaking has carried a weapon in combat and defended the lives of thier fellow humans…
    Then, and only then does she deserve the rights so vigilantly defended for her.
    Then, she’ll have the respect of those who answered the call.
    And be able to speak for America’s citizens with a semblance of seeming like she knows what she’s talking about.

  11. Chief says:

    Actually, since this lady is a postdoctoral fellow in history at Northwestern University … you’d think she could “write more better.”

    It seems to me that most of the reactions to this article of hers focus on the “shadow it casts on veterans.” That’s because she’s a crappy writer. I don’t think she’s “anti-veteran,” I just think she didn’t put her idea across very well — which is suprising for the amount of money somebody spent on her college education. Unfortunately for her, her goofy ill-written ‘article’ has now painted herself in all sortsa hosed up colors to all sortsa people.

    Fortunately, however: *you* are reading this and, as of this moment, *you* are aware of the fact that most veterans did what they did because it is a necessary fact of life: Warriors offer to trade their lives for the defense and safety of their countries (for whatever time they serve) and then *attempt* to return to “a real life.” Some veterans are more fortunate than others, but some are not even given the *chance.*

    Whether or not those who have no clue about what it takes and what it means to sacrifice one’s freedoms to support those of others ARE IN FAVOR OF WAR or protest our deployed Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines is up to them, but: when these heros return home, they *should* be given every bit of assistance required to reintegrate into society. They are given some, but it’s not nearly at the level of assistance it should be. C’mon it’s not like they’re coming out of the military and becoming a burden on our society like the baby factories who are in the business of making babies to increase their gov’t support for the sole purpose of supporting their crack habits … these people are willing to put up their lives for all of us.

    What are you going to give them in return? Okay … nuff said … gettin’ off my box and returning to “the point:” I think this writer isn’t a very good one. She should go sit in some thinktank somewhere where she’s allowed to speak but not write anything down and definitely not post it to the web again. And she should feel very silly (which she probably does already.)

  12. JeffO says:

    Ms. Belew has a history of bashing the ‘racist right’ as she calls them. Just a quick look at her resume, specifically her talks and discussions, and she should be quickly dismissed as an idiot in an ivory tower with a personal vendetta:

    http://www.history.northwestern.edu/people/documents/cvBelew.pdf

    These people claim to be open to other ideas until you actually suggest one, then they shout you down and call you are a ‘racist right winger’. At least this woman doesn’t hide her opinion; it’s just unfortunate any publisher is gullible enough to buy into it.

  13. lambda5555m says:

    Next time we deploy troops, put Belew on the front lines in the combat zone reporting what goes on. Maybe she will change her mind about Veterans? I kind of doubt it, but hey, there are those in this Great Country of ours that are just plain and simple morons like Belew. Maybe she should thank a Veteran for being allowed to be an American instead of berating them and thinking we are all killers or KKK members. Maybe she needs to grow up and smell the bananas??? Didn’t she learn that if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all?

  14. To: Kathleen Belew

    Really, Ms. Belew- Do U actually take a moment to look in Your Mirrow, each day?
    Take a look, and realize Your Freedom, comes from the Commitment that these Great Women @ Men that have Sacrificed their Lives, for Your Freedom! Everyone is not a Great & Perfect as U think U are! OH WELL. Served in Vietnam 66-67′ USMC. 53K, lost their Lives, for Youuur FREEDOM! does that NOT, mean anything for U?

  15. Cyclops says:

    Just read in the employment section of her resume and noticed she was employed by the Mellon Foundation. Is that the same one headed by Thornton Mellon, because if it is, now I understand.).).).)