I (You) Can’t Hear You (Me)

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by Sandy Cook, Staff Writer

There are 24 million veterans, some of whom belong to one or more of several thousand veterans’ organizations. Each one of those organizations has an agenda, and each one of those veterans has a world-view. We are largely ineffective because we can’t get past the sheer numbers of world-views, and because we hang up on the differences in the agendas of our organizations, rather than capitalizing on their commonalities.     


I (You) Can’t Hear You (Me)

By Sandy Cook

There are 24 million veterans, some of whom belong to one or more of several thousand veterans’ organizations. Each one of those organizations has an agenda, and each one of those veterans has a world-view. We are largely ineffective because we can’t get past the sheer numbers of world-views, and because we hang up on the differences in the agendas of our organizations, rather than capitalizing on their commonalities.

Much of the problem stems from the fact that we often shout our differing and inconsistent worldviews at each other, drowning out our generally consistent point of view on almost all important veterans’ issues.

Some of us believe, in our worldview, that it is America’s role to set the world on the path to democracy, no matter what that takes, including war. Some of us believe, in our differing worldview, that is America’s role to set the example for others so that they can find their own way to democracy. And, some of us believe, in yet another worldview, that we ought to keep our noses out of other people’s business. These worldviews are not easy to reconcile.

Some of our organizations believe that their role is to support the American government regardless. Some of our organizations believe that their role is to only support the veteran or the retiree in his or her everyday travails. Yet other organizations believe that it is their role to question our government when it seems to falter. Others believe that their role is to be seen publicly to represent the veteran before Congress or before executive agencies regardless of the outcome. A very few believe that their sole rule is to provide a venue for war stories accompanied by a decent drink.

Despite all these differences, with a little work it would not be hard to find a common purpose and a common point of view. We need to do two things. First, we have to remember that we are all patriots, and that we never have to prove that again, especially to each other. Second, we need to ignore our differences and concentrate on the common problem we all see.

The common problem is neither hard to find nor to describe. Simply, it is that while the Congress has made some fairly good laws, successive administrations have not "faithfully upheld" those laws. The associated problem is that Congress, once it passes those laws, doesn’t follow up — doesn’t supervise — maybe doesn’t even care very much. The final piece of the problem is that the smaller the percentage of the public that is producing veterans — the fewer families actually sending their sons and daughters to serve – less than one half of one percent – the less the public is interested in the plight of veterans.

If all of us, despite our worldview or our point of view or the agenda of our organizations, just concentrated on this real problem we might be able to have a real effect. After all, 24 million veterans are potentially 24 million votes: add a minimum of one family member or friend and you are talking about nearly 50 million votes, or about one third of all eligible voters. So, even though only one half of one percent of American families currently have members serving in the military, all veterans together with their families and friends could swing elections. Working together, we might even get Congress members’ attention.

Unfortunately, because we concentrate most on our differences instead of focusing on our common problem, we seldom have the effect we desire.  I shout at you, you shout at me, and neither one of us listens to the other. We revel in our differences with accusations like:
  • "My war was a real war, not like yours."
  •  "My way is patriotic — yours isn’t."
  •  “You weren’t a real soldier; you weren’t in combat."
  •  "We won our war: you lost yours."
  •  "I was on the ground; you were (in the air/on the ocean/in the rear)."
  •  "You may have served, but you never went to war."
  •  “We support the flag-burning amendment; you don’t, therefore you’re not a good American."
  •  "You question whether we are winning in Iraq — that’s un-American."
  •  "You say bring the troops home – that means you don’t support the troops."
  •  “You say “we must win” and I haven’t heard anyone describe what “winning” means in Iraq.”

All of the shouting obscures the real problems. Instead of fighting each other, we should be fighting for our brothers and sisters. Specifically we should be fighting for:
  •  truth in recruiting
  •  adequate training, with extensive area training
  •  full-up equipment and armor
  •  never sending our children to war unless there is clear and present danger, and then only if all other
         options have failed
  •  clear missions including defining success
  •  reasonable rotation of tours
  •  total support for families during deployments
  •  an end to stop-loss
  •  seamless transition from service to the DVA
  •  full and timely medical benefits
  •  guaranteed returned to civilian jobs for Reserve and National Guard
  •  lifetime recognition of delayed stress

and most of all,

  •  when war comes, universal sacrifice

I will listen to you if you will listen to me. I swear to you that I will not to bring up that which divides us. Together we can do this.

Gordon Duff’s recent article on this website led me to dig out the above essay from my organization’s newsletter that I published last fall on the anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center. We both lament the echo chamber in which we find ourselves where everyone shouts and almost no one listens.

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