I now have something to say.
My brother, a Marine, recently left for his second deployment to Afghanistan. He is in a very dangerous area, and his unit has already lost a high number of members. I live in a politically liberal city, work in a liberal profession, attend a liberal graduate school, and have mostly liberal friends. (And I’m generally a liberal myself.) Only close friends and a few colleagues know that my brother is in Afghanistan. Most people I know oppose the war in Afghanistan and the military. People often say incredibly harsh things about deployed troops. One person implied that it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing for soldiers to die and another said that almost all Marines were racist “war criminals” who delighted in killing children. I have to be around these people for school and work. I don’t necessarily want to tell them about my brother. It’s emotionally distressing to talk about his deployment—especially to unsympathetic people. Is there a graceful way to get them to shut up without having to bare my soul to them?
—A Hurt Sister
The ultimate irony is that these people don’t have the insight to imagine what it would be like to live in a world in which there was no U.S. military. Let’s just say it’s unlikely they would be living in a lovely liberal enclave in which they would feel free to express whatever they disliked about the government. The people who are making these repugnant comments surely consider themselves the soul of sophisticated enlightenment, yet they chillingly shrug at the deaths of young Americans willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country, and malign our bravest men and women as baby killers. I understand you don’t want to discuss your brother with them. Family members of deployed military have a hard enough job just getting through the day. But reluctant as you may be to engage with them, I think it is worth it for such self-righteous people to be brought up short. You don’t have to allude to anything personal. If you were objecting to homophobic or anti-Semitic remarks, it wouldn’t have to be because you had a gay brother or you were Jewish.
Maybe you can prepare yourself with some short responses so that you don’t let these insults go unchallenged. For example: “Elected officials are the ones who make policy decisions, and the members of our armed forces carry them out. You don’t have to agree with the policy to acknowledge the courage of our troops.” “I’m sure you don’t mean that you actually welcome the deaths of our men and women in uniform.” “As with every organization, the military has some bad people. Fortunately, they are few, and those who commit an illegal act are arrested and prosecuted, just like civilians.” Think of your remarks as conversation stoppers, not starters, and refuse to get drawn into a debate. If someone goes on to insist our troops are war criminals, reply that you’d prefer such sentiments be kept private. You can also authorize your colleagues to let people know that your brother is a Marine in Afghanistan. It would be good for some of these cosseted, smug blue-staters to realize that living among them are those whose dearest wish is that their beloved Marine comes home safe and sound.
Wow. I can’t say I’m surprised. But … wow. One person implied that it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing for soldiers to die and another said that almost all Marines were racist “war criminals” who delighted in killing children. I take offense to that, and I don’t think I would want to associate with someone who had such a narrow world view, and I don’t even have any (living) relatives who are currently serving/have previously served in the armed forces! (My grandfather was in the Navy and the Merchant Marines, and served in WWII.)
For the record: I did not support the War in Iraq. I did and still do support having troops deployed in Afghanistan, though I cringe at the term “War on Terror.” (This is, in part, because of who coined it … I won’t lie about my biases against our former President.) I agree with Obama’s decision to support NATO and the UN in establishing a No Fly Zone in Libya, but I do think he should have gone to Congress first*. I do think it is hypocritical that we’re getting involved in Libya but not Bahrain or Yemen because we don’t want to piss off the assholes in the Saudi royal family.
I’m apprehensive of the military’s questionably ethical practice of recruiting 18 year olds for the same physiological reasons that support the drinking age remaining at age 21 (that is, brains are not yet fully formed; the ability to “mold” soldiers at a young age). I am not a fan of cutting education, health care, salaries and benefits for government employees (such as SOLDIERS), etc., in favor of honoring multi-billion dollar military contracts with companies with questionable-at-best ethics (read: Halliburton). I take issue with how the military treats soldiers with mental health disorders, and how VA has handled soldiers who have come home with severe mental health issues and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that have in some cases led to suicide. I’m not thrilled with its treatment of women, but it has gotten significantly better, and I’m SO glad that DADT was FINALLY repealed.
But? Regardless of the above? I 100 percent support the troops, wish for their safety in their endeavors (even if I am not supportive of those endeavors), and am very thankful for their efforts.
You can be respectful of an institution, and even supportive of it, and still take issue with the politics surrounding it. I have a lot of mixed feelings about the military, but I’m glad that we have one, and I would NEVER wish ill will on a soldier just because he (or she) is a soldier.
*More than anything, just to shut people up – what he did was NOT illegal and NOT impeachable, and for that matter, neither was what Bush did in going into Iraq. Learn your constitution, friends. I was not supportive of Iraq because I thought the action was short-sighted and based on faulty information and him hearing what he wanted to hear. Turned out I was right. However, on the other hand, by deploying troops and not getting the initial “go-ahead” from Congress first? Yeah, it’s not illegal, but it’s poor form and it pisses people off.