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Helping the Vets or Smearing the Service? By: Lt. Col. Gordon Cucullu
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, July 14, 2008


When does “compassion” to veterans become an assault on the military they served? When the Left is involved.

A report 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.

The 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.”

My initial 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.

Moreover, 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 of jail.”

All good, right?

Upon 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?

What appears 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 normal society.

That is flat wrong.

One 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.

His infamous 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.

Hollywood 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.

Lately the 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.

Additionally, 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.

What is 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.”

By creating 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.

Further, by 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?

America is, 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 support.

Expressions 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.

A larger 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.

Questions of 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.

Lt. Col. Gordon Cucullu has been an Army Green Beret lieutenant colonel, as well as a writer, popular speaker, business executive and farmer. His most recent book is Separated at Birth, about North and South Korea. He returned recently from an embed with soldiers in Iraq and has launched a web site called Support American Soldiers to assist traveling soldiers.


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