America, we need to talk about your (possibly) unintentional indifference to the plight of veterans and the military. Hear me out.
Sure, you like most in the country say you revere military service: Polls consistently show a majority of Americans have a “great deal of confidence” in the military, after all. You say “thank you” to every veteran you meet, sing “This Land is Your Land” at the ballgame real loudly and maybe even get genuinely angry at anything that you perceive sleights the sacrifices of our service people.
But I also know — because I’ve talked to a lot of people as a bartender, teacher and traveler and it comes up a lot — that you have probably said something like, “Oh, I can’t possibly imagine what you’ve been through” when talking to a veteran.
Why do you create a psychic distance with that question? You wouldn’t stop a teacher or banker or construction worker with "Oh, I possibly couldn't understand" when the subject of their work experiences comes up. If you were generally curious, you would ask questions to keep learning. It feels like, often, this is used as a way to bow out of the conversation. It's hard to keep talking after that.
But c'mon. Really? You've read books, seen movies, watched the news. You can probably guess some of what I did. And isn't that already kind of getting it? Maybe even already understanding?
I got shot at, and it sucked.
I’ve been in a really hot and harsh desert, and that sucked.
I’ve dazed-shocked reached all over my body to see if I was hit after a rocket’s explosion, said prayers with buddies when Black Hawks took off to collect the wounded or dying, palmed the helmets of killed Marines and heard silence during the final roll call of their name. Those things sucked, a lot.
But surely you can imagine? If you have the cognitive ability to visualize what I’ve just described, I must ask you, did you really need me to write that to feel something — about us?
I know you’re a good person and you really want to care — and there are so many things to care about — but when you tell us that you couldn’t possibly understand our stories, what you’re sub-textually telling us is you don’t want to understand. And America, really, we can’t suffer your sitting on the fence about this anymore.
I want you to intellectualize what it means to send our young men and women to war for 18 years and what that means as the sound of every door knock for the mothers back home when their children are away.
I want you to think about how war can churn someone up so much that there's a trend of parking lot suicides happening outside of VA hospitals in America.
I want you to imagine the gut-suck fear of riding in a Humvee, knowing you could be blown up by an IED at any moment.
And I want you to do some reflection on whether you'd want to go through that, or why someone else would, and most importantly if the reasons for the wars are still worth it for those still fighting.
I need you to think about the deaths of the thousands of U.S. military members and contractors and DOD civilians and humanitarians and journalists killed since 9/11, and the ones who will die tomorrow, and then get back to us.
I need you to understand that war is a democratic process. The military does not choose it. The people you choose to elect do.
Respectfully, for that reason, you shouldn't be allowed to gaze from afar, put us out of mind, cut off yourself to us.
Whatever we have done, it was because you hired us to do it.
I need you to have an answer to: What do you think about that?
Because if your answer right now is "I don't really know," well I don't really know what your support means in practicality.
Dario DiBattista (email@example.com; Twitter: @dariodibattista) is an instructor and editor with the Veterans Writing Project and the editor of the anthology “Retire the Colors: Veterans & Civilians on Iraq & Afghanistan.” He served in the Marines and is a veteran of the war in Iraq.