Privileges of Being an American Civilian: The Systemic Issues of American Veterans and Wars

Emily DeTar, Traces of Privilege, 6
Flag, Board, Memory, Pride, Retro, SignsAs I reflect on this upcoming Memorial Day, I've been thinking about what it means for me to be an American civilian.  When people talk about privileges of being American, they start with our freedoms. It is very important to notice the privileges of democracy, civil liberties, and certain freedoms by being an American. However, it's also important to note systemic and cultural privileges of being a civilian in our American culture.

I have systemic privileges because I am an American civilian.

As Americans we have a lot of honor and pride for our veterans, especially around Memorial Day we give incredible respect and honor to our servicemen and service women in the military. We have ceremonies, and we salute them in the streets. But while we have a cultural sense of honor around our veterans,  Veterans  do not get treated systemically with the same respect or regard that American civilians do. 

Homeless Man, Homeless, AdviceThere are around 21.8 million veterans in the U.S. One any given night nationwide, around 47,725 veterans are homeless. While financial aid for education is a benefit of voluntarily joining military service, veterans overall have a hard time of applying for civilian jobs, due to lack of work experience, education, or training. While many veterans gain support and benefits from the government, their are multiple cases of mistakes with forms and information, and the support never seems to reach enough veterans or be enough those they help.

The systemic issues become clearer when we look at health needs. A significant number of Veterans from every conflict suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, between 11 to 30 percent per conflict. This affects the ability to re-accumulate to civilian life. If left untreated, veterans with PTSD have an increased likelihood of addiction or suicide. Around 2013, the statistic around that around 22 veterans committed suicide per day. These are only mental health issues, there are of course several physical disabilities and diseases that are caused by active duty. The V.A. has health insurance, hospitals, and care for all veterans. But recent news shows how unreliable VA care is. The care often takes months or years, is often filled with frustrating hurdles, and routinely filling with clerical mistakes. Several veterans die just waiting for treatment, especially if the VA health benefits are the only ones they can receive.

As a civilian and not a veteran, I have a more likely chance of seeing medical attention as soon as I need it, getting a job and requisite training, and much less likely to encounter situations that cause PTSD. There are plenty of civilians that have any or all three situations, but it is a less likely chance than those who have served in the military.

Secondly, I earn privileges by being an American civilian, then a civilian anywhere else in the world. I have felt like my home town or places of residence were  put in the position of war. Since 1945, there have been no conflicts on American soil or the soil of American commonwealth nations. While we continue to be in worldwide war, our nation and it's nation states have not had direct conflict in over fifty years.

Children Of War, Hungry, Sadness, Waiting LineThere has never been a drone aimed for my town, or village, or home. I have never had to worry if soldiers would barge in to take refuge or seize my property. I have never had to imagine bombs going off day and night. I have never had to have bomb drill for an active war. There are countries  still in direct combat with our nation, that have civilians that face this on a daily basis. I have never been a refugee. While we joke about running away to Canada if a particular president is elected, we have never been caught in the middle of a civil or world wide war that forces us to be displaced, continuously harmed, and without a home.

Being an American civilian, I have much to be thankful for. I keep in mind the sacrifices that service men and women worldwide make on a regular basis.The people in our military are the ones doing noble work. But what is our nation doing with the noble work they give? I hear the phrase they are "protecting us", but I wonder what privileges of mine are they protecting and why? There is no threat of direct warfare, at least not in the ways that so many other countries face threats. Why are we still endangering and harming the lives of civilians and service men and women across the world? 

I think it's important to ask why as we face Memorial Day, so that the sacrifices given by our veterans aren't just accepted as a duty, but given the thoughtful respect and meaning those actions deserve. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, "it is for us the living to rededicate to the work they have so nobly advanced". What work are we as a nation advancing world wide in our military actions through the dedication and service of our military and veterans? Is it noble? And if not, how do we make it noble? Our veterans and service personnel deserve nothing less than our nation's careful and noble discernment.

This is part 6 of an ongoing series, "Traces of Privilege," which explores privileges I possess, and what my faith as a Unitarian Universalist calls me to do about them.
See also
Traces of Privilege, 1: The UU Privileges and Purposes
Traces of Privilege, 2: Unitarian Universalism Has Class -- Meaning Economic Privilege
Traces of Privilege, 3: A Memory of Privilege and The Importance of Personhood
Traces of Privlege, 4:  The Privlege of Working for Black Lives Matter
Traces of Privlege, 5: The Privlege of Being a White Woman. 

1 comment:

  1. not to mention the people we are directly harming in the name of "help"