Sunday, February 17, 2008

Young veterans need to become a social movement

I feel very strongly about building the product and brand of 'veteran' in American society moving forward. I spent much of my college career focused on that goal. With that idea, I responded to a comment by Tigerhawk in his post "American soldiers then and now":

Tigerhawk: "Moreover, I think the Iraq veterans, as a generation, will have a very different influence over American institutions, political and otherwise, than the Vietnam generation did."

I hope that's true. However, the numbers gap and the civil-military gap argue against that happening. With numbers, such a relatively small number of the current young generation will have served, in peace- or war-time. Even fewer from the educated middle and upper classes that produce most of our civil leaders will have served. I doubt that by themselves, young veterans will be able to form a critical mass to be influential. More likely, young veterans will be forced to put away their hard-earned military heritage and assimilate into, rather than transform, civil society.

The civil-military gap further and dramatically diminishes the value of military experience in the young generation. For many young Americans - or Americans period - military service is at best an alien concept outside of their understanding, and at worst, they believe the negative stereotypes. Praise for the military is often cliched, thoughtless lip service. After all, the bestowed honor of military service derives from the deep appreciation of selfless service, sacrifice, and duty, yet those civic values have not been emphasized in our society, even after 9/11. Formative pop culture and many young people don't view the Long War as a noble cause, rather the opposite. Without that counter-balance of popular honor, the more-tangible consequences of military service, eg, life-long physical and mental injuries, deaths, reluctant participation in a frightening war, and highly visible loss of life, career, and academic opportunities are more tangible proof of the negative value of military service to the young generation . . . in other words, the civil-military gap.

With that said, I *very much* want the veterans of the current young generation to be and act proud of their military heritage and the honor they have earned. They did the harder right instead of the easier wrong and deserve to be rewarded. More importantly, their achievements ought to be set as the social standard for future generations. I want their service to translate as a positive influence in their lives and for society as a whole, with tangible benefits everyone can understand. I want the veterans' life-long civilian generational peers to come to wish, with regret, that they had volunteered to serve in the military, too. With the numbers and civil-military gaps, though, I just don't believe that phenomenon is going to happen by itself.

Moving forward, young veterans - if they want their military service to be valued and beneficial in their lives - need to take it upon themselves to build upon their military heritage in civil society rather than put it away.

We need many more visible, active, and attractive groups like the US Military Veterans of Columbia University (military veterans who are students at Columbia U.) and Hamilton Society (Columbia U.'s ROTC cadets and USMC officer candidates group) sprouting at grass roots in esteemed corners of civil society.

Young veterans need to make 'veteran' a dynamic, powerful product and - even more importantly - build a positive, attractive marketing brand for 'veteran' in civil society. This can only work as a growing movement; if more young veterans opt to sell out (and wholy assimilate) to the civil-military gap rather than buy into (and build the 'veteran' brand in) a veterans' movement, no one will make this social change happen for them.

Of course, any help from civilian supporters and members of older American generations would be helpful and appreciated. :)


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