A difference of perspective: How we view our military
Last night, I was at the dinner theater at Chaffin’s Barn here in Nashville, TN. I’d never gone before, though I’d heard many things about it, all good. One of the nice things they do is a pre-show introduction that includes asking the members of our current and past military to stand and be acknowledged. What I observed was that a few more recent members stood immediately. However, the older members of the military, some very clearly out of the military for many years, were very reluctant to be acknowledged. Eventually, the number went from two standing to around ten, many of them with white hair and balancing with one hand on the table next to them.
It struck me that we are very open about supporting our troops but in the time since the “best generation” was so willing to go to war to fight for us and do it willingly, we have changed the way we embrace people when they return and give up their stripes. I’d been discussing this with a coworker after she’d been interviewing a person for a disability evaluation. Freud had a theory that we have defense mechanisms that we use to remove ourselves from unpleasant thoughts, feelings and actions. Within this theory are specific defense mechanisms that reoccur between people and can be categorized. One of these is called sublimation, which is a when we take a socially unacceptable impulse and mold it into something acceptable and useful to society. For this particular entry, we can look at a naturally aggressive or protective person who takes this to extremes, place them in a uniform and train them to use that aggression or protective instinct in the field and call them a soldier instead of a deviant. They become marvelous soldiers, cops and other types of protectors because it is in their makeup to behave in certain ways. While they are in the service we applaud this, we encourage it, we move them up the ranks and we celebrate them.
And then we bring them home and retire them. Or they get hurt. Or their families ask them to find a new career. Or their parents get old and need someone to help. Or some other reason sidetracks their career and we suddenly have removed the very profession that sublimation lent itself. We wonder why so many have mood disorders and post-traumatic distress, but we have very little set up for them. The Veteran’s Affairs (VA) do a lot for these people, but ultimately, many attempt to get disability because a typical work environment no longer works for them. If you have difficulty with your temper and aggression it makes sense that it would be difficult to be in an environment that forces you to be still and get along with others all day without an outlet. The VA also allows for mental health therapy, but there is a stigma that is related to this that many soldiers struggle with and therefore they refuse the voluntary help.
Our contemporary soldiers are more inclined to accept accolades. Our elderly ones, not so much. At what point did the breakdown occur in that we failed them as a society? At what point will our contemporary soldiers realize that they have little to come back to when our society has little to offer them once they are no longer a soldier? We have to do better than this. We need to offer better plans for returning military and their families and less stigmatization on mental healthcare.