From Tyler Boudreaus Journal: Psychatrix
Saturday, February 9, 2008 at 3:58PM
I recently had an interesting conversation.
It all started in a room filled with people who were united in their deep concern for the welfare of returning veterans. Many people spoke. Veterans spoke. Stories were told. Hearts were poured out.
But suddenly, amidst all this good will, a rift spread across the room. A difference of opinion emerged. How to best serve a returning veteran? It was not so easy a question as we might have guessed.
The cause of the rift?
Imagine that. Peace, as the catalyst of confrontation.
But it was.
A crowd of very decent, well-meaning people sat in the middle and said, “We want to care for our veterans. We also want to talk about peace.”
Battle lines were hastily drawn. On one side, were three men affiliated with the Department of Veterans Affairs. On the other side, the veterans.
“Oh no, no,” the VA men said. “You cannot speak of peace. If you ever want to build rapport with veterans, you cannot utter a word about peace!” They went on to explain that veterans view peace-activists as the enemy. “If they so much as hear that word—peace—they will turn tail and run the other way. And you’ll have lost them forever.”
These were the experts. They knew veterans. They carried that weight with them.
Then the veterans in the room responded. They said, “Um, yes but…we’re not all opposed to talking about peace. In fact, given our troubles with war, we rather enjoy the discussion.”
Now there is truth, of course, in the suggestion that many veterans do feel a certain hostility from the peace movement—even those veterans who have been disquieted by their own experiences in war. But my feeling, as an Iraq War veteran, is that they tend to be threatened mostly by the rhetoric that is leveled directly against the actions they took in war. Veterans are not inherently opposed to peaceful days, and most, I think would be perfectly receptive to a discussion of diplomacy vs. military action in future situations.
And so the debate went back and forth, the moral divide opened, and the well-meaning people in the middle began to slip down into it. They looked to the left at the few passionate veterans in the room, and then they looked to the right at the men from the VA who said they’d worked with and heard the stories from thousands of veterans.
“Trust us,” they said. “We know what we’re talking about.”
You could see the struggle ensue before your eyes. You could feel it.
In the end, the well-meaning people in the middle grabbed hold of a rope called neutrality.
And there they hung, murmuring, “We do not want to upset our veterans, so we will not talk about peace. We will not talk about politics. We will not talk about stopping the war in Iraq. We will not talk about preventing a war in Iran. We will not talk about anything.”
The cause for war had won.
The interesting conversation came after all this.
I was disturbed by what I’d heard those VA men say. But I was not entirely surprised. One man was a psychiatrist. He explained the psychological dimensions of PTSD. Another was a chaplain. He explained the spiritual dimensions of PTSD. But by virtue of their jobs and the hands that fed them, they could not delve too deeply into the moral questions of policy.
This is where I became most incensed.
“Because war with Iran is not yet a policy,” I said to my friend who was also at the meeting. “There are no troops on the ground to support or not to support. There are no units in contact. There is no mission to believe in or to doubt. This is a great burden off our shoulders and clears the table for the possibility of diplomacy. This is the time to talk about it. This is the time to talk about non-violence, before the violence begins, before the troops are sent, and before we have another polarizing war which we cannot speak of critically without offending somebody.”
What was so extraordinary about this particular episode was that the painstaking neutrality embraced by all these well-meaning people to spare the feelings of the veterans had effectively trumped their own instincts to speak for peace. They were silenced. They silenced themselves, not only about the present war, but about future ones as well.
My friend and I agreed, we’d witnessed a surprising phenomenon. And we realized that the effort to prevent future wars might be effectively impeded through its manipulation.
If, for example, Iran was pressed upon the American people not as a war of its own, but merely as an extension of the same war on terror already taking place in Iraq, then so much the more difficult it would be to oppose for those people desperately wishing to show support for the troops.
I am grateful that the members of the American Legion Post 271 in Hadley have not allowed this rationale to prevent them from graciously inviting Congressman Neal and his constituents into their hall to discuss the situation in Iran.
It was a noble thing to do, and I’m pleased that it was veterans who did it.
This is a complex issue with many perspectives to consider, all of which I have not captured in this essay. The exchanges I’ve just described are my own impressions alone. They are not intended to be an indictment. What is most important to keep in mind is not the particular personalities involved here or the particular groups represented, but the phenomenon itself.
That’s the ball to keep one’s eye on.
It is the danger of dialogue being squelched among people who desire peace, but who also feel obligated to support the troops at any cost including silence. That moral dilemma will surely be exploited by those who desire war.
I look forward to participating in and listening to the exchange of ideas on February 20th.
This indeed is a great opportunity for our community. It is what representative democracy is all about.
As for those who remain silently dangling from the rope of neutrality, and those who cannot find space in their hearts for peace, I must sadly let them go and make my own strongest bond with the future.