Respecting the Soldiers

I have noticed an interesting, yet inconsistent attitude toward the soldiers by comparing the attitudes of today with the attitudes during the Vietnam era.

Now both the Vietnam War and the current War in Iraq are unpopular wars.  But let’s look at how the soldiers were portrayed.

In Vietnam, the soldiers were treated horribly.  When they came home, they were considered traitors to the country and that they did something dishonorable.  People spat at them when they came home and you were treated as if you were unpatriotic and un-American.

In Iraq, it’s a different story. Even if you disagree with the war, people always treat the soldiers with respect and usually thanking them for serving our country. They are seen with respect, diligence, honor, and courage. Vietnam soldiers, on the other hand, are the antithesis of Iraq soldiers.

Now here’s where it gets interesting: the Vietnam soldiers had no choice in the matter.  They had to fight based on conscription.  So if they had no choice, then why were they treated with such disrespect?

At the same time, the Iraq soldiers went in voluntarily so they had a choice.  Yet they get the honors, support, and gratitude.  But the Vietnam War is as unpopular as the Iraq war.  So why is there a discongruency?

Here’s my guess.  I’m not a scholar in history but my guess is that since the Vietnam war was a drafted war, the protesters knew this and so they saw anything governmental with contempt.  The soldiers were part of the governmental program (even though the soldiers themselves had no say).  Thus, the protesters saw the soldiers with contempt.  Whereas the Iraq soldiers aren’t really “seen” as part of the governmental program (because they had a choice), thus they get the respect whereas the government itself gets the contempt.  The more I think about it, it seems like a stretch.  After all, the Iraq soldiers choose to get involved and so based on my theory, the Iraq soldiers should get even more contempt than the government itself.  So why the discongruency?

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About shaunmiller

I am a Ph. D student at Marquette University. The primary purpose of this blog is to get my ideas out there, and then have other people scrutinize, critique, build upon, and systematize beliefs. This blog will sometimes pertain to what I'm learning in my classes, but it will occasionally deal with non-classroom issues that I'm thinking about as well.
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3 Responses to Respecting the Soldiers

  1. Killer J says:

    It probably has something to do with Americans realizing that the way Vietnam soldiers were treated by citizens is directly correlated to all the drug&alcohol problems, mental health issues, and suicides the vets went through.
    Rational, empathic, and compassionate citizens understand that unloading vitriole and contempt on the individuals participating in war is heinous. Therefore, the impersonal image of the government takes the brunt of scorn.

    Physical proximity has a lot to do with it too. As the “face” of the government, George Bush is easy to criticize. We only see him on TV, and his critics only bash him via internet, television, and other indirect media. There isn’t the intimate connection of true face to face interaction, which has a limiting factor on most people’s willingness to confront.

    I know you’re against the war, Shaun. You also may dislike Bush, and our soldiers. The other thing I know about you is you’re too nice to slam somebody to their face, since you don’t really want to 1) start a fight, or 2) hurt their feelings.

    If either Bush, or G.I. Joe were standing in front of you, your message to them would be distinctly more subtle.

    Americans learned this the hard way, as our Vietnam vets were significantly damaged by our citizens.

  2. shaunmiller says:

    Killer J says:

    It probably has something to do with Americans realizing that the way Vietnam soldiers were treated by citizens is directly correlated to all the drug&alcohol problems, mental health issues, and suicides the vets went through.

    I don’t think that has to do with the citizens treatment of the soldiers. The soldiers of today have problems and the citizens are treating them with honor. I don’t see the correlation. Also, I think it’s backwards. You’re basically saying that citizens treating soldiers bad causes soldiers to have bad health issues. It could be the other way around: soldiers having bad health issues causes citizens treating soldiers bad.

    He also says:

    Physical proximity has a lot to do with it too. As the “face” of the government, George Bush is easy to criticize. We only see him on TV, and his critics only bash him via internet, television, and other indirect media. There isn’t the intimate connection of true face to face interaction, which has a limiting factor on most people’s willingness to confront.

    But the citizens did bash the soldiers in the Vietnam era face to face, and those soldiers did represent the government.

    He also says:

    You also may dislike Bush, and our soldiers. The other thing I know about you is you’re too nice to slam somebody to their face, since you don’t really want to 1) start a fight, or 2) hurt their feelings.

    Yes, I dislike Bush, but why assume I dislike our soldiers? Because I made a post about something I observed? I find our soldiers in high regard and I find them making big sacrifices. If you want my opinion, I think the people in the Vietnam era wrongheaded. Unlike people who can’t make a distinction, I find it possible to support the troops but still dislike the war. I know many people who do so.

    As for slamming people in their face, what are you talking about? Philosophy, by its very nature, is filled with confrontation. People are always making arguments and trying to find the flaws, replies, responses and critiques of the other position. I think you can do constructive criticism without hurting someone’s feelings. For one, hurting someone’s feelings isn’t an argument.

    If Bush was standing in front of me (or G.I. Joe, I guess), what would you expect me to say? If they want to have a discussion about the Iraq War, I’ll gladly give them my take on it. (In fact, I have many times to people, including people who have come back from the Iraq War. Remember, I teach an ethics class and part of the criteria is determining whether the war in Iraq is just or not.)

    He also says:

    Americans learned this the hard way

    Learned what the hard way? To be subtle? I don’t find America subtle (unless you’re a politician). You can easily look at polls and people do have a certain position on some issue. If people were subtle, then everyone would be moderate. But were not. This post was to point out an observation: that of why Vietnam soldiers got treated badly, and why Iraq soldiers get the honors when the conditions, criteria, and standards of the both wars are extremely similar.

  3. Killer J says:

    Shaun says: “I don’t think that has to do with the citizens treatment of the soldiers.”

    Well, it does. It’s not the sole cause of PTSD and other combat related health issues, but it is a significant one. When combat trauma levels are high, and public treatment for Veteran homecoming is distinctly negative, the psychological cost is significant. Conversely, when combat trauma is high but public treatment is positive the rates drop sharply.

    He says: “The soldiers of today have problems and the citizens are treating them with honor.”

    Iraq vets have problems for different reasons. Serving three to four tours (which is unprecedented) is the main culprit. According to VA research, the rates would likely be a lot higher if our public had the Vietnam era mentality.

    He says: “But the citizens did bash the soldiers in the Vietnam era face to face, and those soldiers did represent the government.”

    True, but proximity is still a huge deterrant to confrontation.

    He says: “so based on my theory, the Iraq soldiers should get even more contempt than the government itself.”
    and then says: “Yes, I dislike Bush, but why assume I dislike our soldiers?”

    ? ? ?

    He says: “that of why Vietnam soldiers got treated badly, and why Iraq soldiers get the honors when the conditions, criteria, and standards of the both wars are extremely similar.”

    They may be similar, but there are still differences. These differences explain a lot in my (research backed) opinion. This is what I was trying to point out.

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