When does “compassion”
to veterans become an assault on the military they served? When the Left is
from the Buffalo, NY, Courier-News
highlighted an innovation in our legal system. Buffalo has established a
special court to deal exclusively with veterans accused of crimes.
presiding judge, Judge Robert Russell, takes a paternalistic approach to the
defendants. “He will mete out justice with a disarming mix of small talk and
life-altering advice,” the report said. Local statistics indicated that over
the past year, 300 veterans have appeared in local courts. The judge therefore
“tailor-made the treatment court to address not only vets’ crimes but their
unique mental health issues.”
reaction to the report was that it was a good thing. After all it appears to be
empathetic to veterans’ needs and is designed to induce “a more calming,
therapeutic environment,” as the report claimed, than the apparently more
rigid, stressful usual court atmosphere.
veterans are told that if they “adhere to a demanding 1- to 2-year regimen of
weekly to monthly court appearances, drug testing and counseling for any
combination of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, substance abuse or
anger management, they could see their charges dismissed, or at least stay out
reflection though, second thoughts emerged. I’m a strong advocate of
initiatives that will assist veterans: improved educational benefits, better
health care, more transition training as they move from military to civilian
life, and more emphasis on wounded veterans and families of deceased veterans.
But is offering them a special ride through the criminal justice system really
in the best interests of society or of the veterans themselves?
to be emerging in this initiative is a move – at least from some quarters – to
create a victim mentality toward veterans, to give the impression that they are
so psychologically damaged by their experiences while in military service that
they are incapable of readjustment to civilian life and are unable to cope with
That is flat
indicator of concern is that this initiative has been quickly politicized.
Senator John Kerry (D-MA) is a proponent of the special courts initiative and
is working to have them established across the country. Kerry’s presence
automatically sets off alarms. While making liberal citation of his limited
Vietnam War experience during his failed 2004 presidential campaign, the senator
was instrumental in an earlier campaign that deliberately slandered a previous
generation of veterans.
Senate testimony that baselessly accused the Vietnam generation of horrific
atrocities and his leadership in the discredited Winter Soldier movement led
Americans to believe that hundreds of thousands of returned veterans were
social misfits. The stereotype of the Vietnam veteran as an alcoholic, drug addicted,
sociopathic misfit living hand-to-mouth in a cardboard box under the overpass
has become embedded in popular culture.
reinforced this image with a series of movies that portrayed Vietnam veterans
as psychotic killers unable to make the transition to normality. Many of these
films were iconic and blockbuster successes.
Nor has the
educational system clarified the picture. Once, when my son was in middle
school and I was lecturing him on some minor transgression while fixing dinner,
he ran from the room shouting, “You’ve got a knife in your hand. And you were
in Vietnam!” So much for what our kids learn in school.
film and television industries have attempted to update their earlier attacks
on the military by releasing a series of films degrading Iraq and Afghanistan
veterans. Thankfully, the public has not responded to such efforts, but the
filmmakers will persist.
print and TV media have persistently released negative stories about veterans. The
New York Times alone has run
successive page-one stories about veterans committing crimes, rampant Post-Traumatic
Stress Disorder, and failing government care for veterans. Contrast that to
stories about successful veterans or that tell of heroism under fire and you
will find them, if at all, buried deep in the paper.
troublesome about this new court initiative is that singling out veterans
accused of criminal activity for special treatment gives credibility to the
myth that individuals – veteran or not – are somehow excused from personal
responsibility for their actions. It’s as though Buffalo decided to govern
based on funnyman Flip Wilson line from the 1970s : “The devil made me do it.”
a special class of criminals – returned Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans –the
system exculpates those individuals from responsibility for their behavior,
legitimizing such aberrant behavior. In the process, it transfers blame for
these evils to its true enemy: the United States Armed Forces.
singling out veterans for special favor, it promulgates the myth that military
service is somehow destructive to those who serve. As B.G. “Jug” Burkett wrote
in his excellent book Stolen Valor, there
has been a “massive distortion of history” – that pervasive negative myths have
been created about who our Vietnam veterans really are. Do we want to be part
of a new mythology in regard to present-day veterans?
in my opinion, in exactly the same position now. We are seeing the beginning of
a deliberate campaign to distort and confuse the pubic into somehow denigrating
the efforts of our soldiers and impugning their reputations. We cannot sit idly
while this happens.
We owe a
great deal to this generation of soldiers, men and women who have served or are
serving in our armed forces, including the Reserves and National Guard. Many
have spent more than half their time in service deployed into a combat zone.
Supposedly “part time” soldiers find that calls to active duty and repeated
deployments have made them “weekend warriors” in name only. The huge personal
sacrifices that these soldiers and their families are enduring demand our
of thanks are welcome but insufficient. We have a lot of work to do as a
country in assisting these soldiers and their families. Readjustment issues are
of primary concern. Perhaps one of the few benefits to emerge from Vietnam was
recognition of the fact that the stresses of combat are not ameliorated simply
by removing the soldier from the battlefield. There are lingering issues that
must be addressed.
issue of size and composition of the armed forces has been on the table for
years, even preceding 9-11. Few doubt that the military is stretched. Many recognize
the benefits technology brings to the battle. Those in the know realize that no
gadget, however effective, can substitute for boots on the ground. We need to
grow the force.
recruitment and retention must be addressed. While the Independence Day
swearing in of 1,250 soldiers in Baghdad made
news as a striking example of the dedication of today’s soldiers, it is an
indicator that we are placing a heavy burden on serving soldiers. We cannot
continue to draw from the well of active duty soldiers without giving them some
backup by reinforcing their ranks.
A case is
easily made for more attention to veterans – active duty and discharged.
However, it seems muddle-headed and misguided to categorize veterans as victims
of an impersonal system by giving them an especially lenient court system.
Better to treat them as the responsible adults they are and to offer necessary
veteran services prior to release of immediately thereafter.
These soldiers have sacrificed far too much in
blood and sweat to be lumped into the category of victim, a description they
would emphatically reject. We owe them a lot, most of all to safeguard and
protect their reputations as the warriors of democracy that they are.