The Minutemen (of the veteran community)

the minutement from the revolutionary war

Last week I made a reference to the Minutemen of the veteran community. What I was talking about is that cadre of veterans who have a megaphone or a soapbox out there that can quickly rally whenever some event happens – usually when veterans get slandered as a whole or misrepresented in the media.

I’ve been having this conversation with other veterans for the past few weeks. It’s been interesting to watch how mature the veteran community has come in terms of responding to nonsense out there. Milblogs have been around for awhile and have always been a fertile dumping ground for angry veterans to rant about this or that. What’s changed now is how connected and polished some veterans have become over the past ten years.

Go to war, come home, go to school, get educated, learn to write, meet the right people, get connected, and now you can rapidly put pen to paper and get a piece published somewhere prominent to respond as an “authentic” voice. The explosion of social media helps this, for sure.

It’s hard for me to know, but I can’t imagine that Vietnam veterans had the same potential outlets as this generation does. Or at least, the barrier for entry was much higher.

Also interesting is how the Minutemen are pretty much leaderless. It’s like a headless insurgency. There is a pulse out there of what’s going on, informed by Twitter feeds and what’s trending on The Duffle Blog. The Minutemen don’t need to be told what to write or who to attack or what to defend. It’s just known and happens usually about the time it needs to happen.

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The Tipping Point: Veterans and Violence

painting of the lament of icarus herbert james draper
The Lament for Icarus (Herbert James Draper, 1898)
The Lament for Icarus (Herbert James Draper, 1898)

It’s been a hectic few weeks in the media concerning veterans and violence. After the Fort Hood shooting, there was the initial wave of reporting that made casual linkages of PTSD in veterans with increased rates of violence. The much-maligned Huffington Post article (now removed) was aggressively jeered and rebutted by the Minutemen – the veterans and veteran advocates who rapidly respond to these type of pieces, whether in the form of highly explosive torpedo tweets or full-on essays at major news outlets.

There was some other nonsense too, like the BuzzFeed article that treated Fort Hood and the soldiers stationed there like zoo animals.

And then this week, an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times with the headline “Veterans and White Supremacy.” The Minutemen rallied and defended.

A lot of the articles being written are really good – on both sides. There is a canvas being slowly unfurled. Unfortunately, it seems that whenever anyone writes anything on this subject, there is an immediate reaction from “the other side” that tries to sink the other ship.

This morning, I read a good piece at Slate: “War is Hell, And Hell Rubs Off” which pretty much says what I know a lot of people have been thinking: “Maybe – just maybe – there is something going on here.”

The idea that PTSD is unrelated to violence back home is one of the central pillars of today’s rigid “support the troops” campaign. After every mass shooting event involving a veteran, Veterans Affairs psychiatrists and veterans advocates deliver the same stern warning: Mentioning PTSD in conjunction with these shootings is not only inaccurate, it hurts veterans.

David J. Morris

The article is written by David J. Morris, a former Marine officer, which gives him the space to say what he says without immediately being branded as a traitor or a dove. In it, he basically argues that there is scientific data that connects combat stress with increased levels of violence – not new information, mind you. He also, and more importantly, tells a deeper story – and this is the story that I think combat veterans know, but don’t want to talk about – that there is something here we are not acknowledging, whether it is the “thing” that draws people to the military in the first place, the brutal process of militarization, or the “thing” that happens to you when you go to war, that “thing” that stays with you.

There has been so much point and counter-point going on in the media concerning veterans and violence that I think the shouting match has become the story. It seems, though, that we are now at the tipping point. Voices are growing bolder in recent days, spurred on by the deluge of articles where violence and extremism find themselves on the same page – in the same story – as veterans and service members. We might be reaching the point where instead of instinctively pushing back or deflecting, we start talking seriously.

What does this mean? The beginning of a more thoughtful, honest conversation about war, I hope.

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