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The Washington Independent
The Washington Independent

Apples and Bunches

Rhyley Carney
News
Last updated: Jul 31, 2020 | May 19, 2008

The Iraq sage Axl Rose once challenged us, “Why let one bad apple spoil the whole damn bunch?” I’m put in mind of that question by some of the reaction to Kristofer Goldsmith’s Winter Soldier testimony.

Kristofer pointedly began his wrenching statement by confessing to something awful:

I joined the Army to kill people. I joined the Army to kill Iraqis, to kill Muslims. To kill people that were a skin tone other than mine and inhabiting the Middle East.

He went on to talk about other, more important things: the futility of occupying Iraq, the indifference of the American people to what is being done in their name, and the shameful treatment by this country of the men and women it sends to war. But the racism stuff has really stuck in people’s minds.

One of my favorite milbloggers, Lt Nixon, comments, in part as a response to a short discussion he and I had in the comments section of my personal blog:

Fellow vets Jonn Lilyea at This Ain’t Hell and TSO at The Sniper call BS on this DC event, but the vile statements brought to light by these IVAW members have already wreaked havoc on, not just the Bush administration, but also service members themselves.Breitbart has the story of Matthis Chiroux saying “I was from a poor, white family from the south, and I did badly in school…I was ‘filet mignon’ for recruiters“, which perpetuates the meme that soldiers are irresponsible and incompetent imbeciles, only capable of robotically following orders. Spencer Ackerman talks about another vet, Goldsmith, who states that he joined the Army to “kill Muslims“. In the comments, Spencer erroneously states that one guy’s actions don’t reflect on the entire military. Unfortunately, this is not quite accurate, because due to the cohesive structure of the service and civilian perception, one member can have huge negative repercussions on the entire military organization (see Okinawa rape case).

I don’t deny that what LT Nixon’s saying is true. Sometimes the media paints the actions of one person as indicative of the actions of the entire group that person associates with. But it doesn’t to be true. It shouldn’t be that difficult for people to understand that Kristofer Goldsmith is just one guy — one man with one set of experiences — and he doesn’t presume to speak for the entire U.S. military. To make that fallacious leap says a lot more about the person making it than it does about Goldsmith or the military.

Only Goldsmith can explain why he said what he said. But it seems more likely than not that he was trying to exorcise his personal demons. We should treat that with a great deal of respect. That creates an obligation on journalists like me: to listen to what the man says; to put it in its proper context; and to also respect the fact that Goldsmith’s fellow veterans do not appreciate hearing something ugly that could conceivably be misunderstood to erroneously implicate in something ugly.

And there’s one last thing to say — something delicate that itself is probably prone to misunderstanding. Sometimes, when I hang around with active-duty troops or with veterans, I get the sense that the civilian/military divide is so acute that soldiers and Marines (I can’t speak to the Air Force or the Navy) civilian society to betray them. That expectation straddles a certain balance — the balance between wariness and distrust. You often hear talk in the military community about how so-and-so politician, or so-and-so civilian in everyday encounters, just when it comes to war. And that’s true: we don’t. I will never pretend to understand what it’s like to risk your life in a war, and it makes sense for those who have to want to associate with others who went through the same thing. But that understandable sentiment carries the risk of curdling into a grievance against the rest of society — and that’s an unhealthy thing. This isn’t Vietnam. Veterans are treated despicably by the Department of Veterans Affairs and by politicians. But unless I’m not seeing something, it seems like the everyday civilians are doing a pretty good job of expressing admiration and support for the troops.

Civilian-military relations are bad. It’s a touchy subject that people prefer not to discuss, or don’t know how to address. But they shouldn’t be like this. Let’s all of us, in our day-to-day lives, resolve to heal this division for everyone’s benefit.

Rhyley Carney | Rhyley Carney is a New York Times bestselling author, anthology editor, comic book writer, magazine feature writer, playwright, content designer, and writing teacher/lecturer who has won five Bram Stoker Awards. More than a dozen countries have purchased her novels.

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