Ok, it's not my usual post. This one's not scheduled. I thought about posting it in a Facebook post, but damnit, I need a longer forum. So, I'm putting it here.
Today, a fellow Soldier posted a video titled something like, Veteran Posts A Rant About Crybabies And It's Going Viral! Are you kidding? No, I won't watch it. No, I don't care if he makes great points. Not watching it.
Look, I love my fellow veterans, retirees, and service members. I'm speaking directly to you. You're my brothers and sisters in arms and always will be. But your opinions about our government or president are not any more important or insightful than anyone else's just because you are a veteran.
I don't recall any special training in how the government operates. We never had any super secret briefings about how it all really works. No one initiates you into the military-in-the-know-club when you raise your right hand and swear to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. People will share these things, and I'm sure that makes you feel great. Who wouldn't like their opinion shared and liked and talked about far and wide? Thing is, they aren't doing it because you are brilliant, my friends. They are doing it because they desperately want a hero to validate their views. This is why celebrities' opinions get repeated and get far more credence than they should. We all agree, or most of us do, that neither Madonna's nor Chuck Norris' opinion about welfare or military spending means jack all. Yet many people will assume that your uniform vests you with superhuman power to speak truth to power. Suddenly, having deployed once makes you an expert on war and foreign policy. Completing Basic Training means you can expound on the pussification of modern youth. Your medals provide you an instant shield against insult or refutation. But is that fair or honest?
There are a few things that service members may have a better insight on. If someone is asking how it feels to leave your family alone for a year or more at a time, to be separated from extended family, to raise a family in those situations... we're experts. If they want to know what it actually feels like to deploy, or serve, to dig foxholes or stand long watches or drive convoys... we're definitely the ones to ask. And at least some of us will have special insight into lots of other things from combat to medical care, but absolutely nothing in our training or experience makes us experts on issues of government or socio-economic issues, or on morals, ethics, religion, or what is or is not American. And it's dishonest as a used camel dealer to pretend it does. When we were still active duty, we had people who told us there were regulations about what we could or could not share, and prohibited our making political statements while in uniform. Once you are out of uniform, the bets are off. There really aren't any rules. Now it's up to you to decide what the ethical guidelines should be.
People want to hear us validate their views. We become like stand ins for experts, or heroic examples proving their point. When we feed that monster, we have to realize that those civilians hungrily hanging on our every word are not hearing our actual arguments. They are hearing a uniform spout their arguments. They will ignore what doesn't fit, and gloat about how you spouted the lines they wanted to hear. You will not be Private Johnson or Staff Sergeant Pamela Wright. You will be "Former Infantryman" or "Twenty-one Year Veteran" who posts an "epic rant" or a "perfect response" to something they don't like which is totally unrelated to your actual military expertise. You have become a stuffed uniform that spouts their views more authoritatively than they can themselves. It's a false, borrowed authority, not your own at all. And you become the whole Army or all Soldiers, rather than an Army Soldier. You aren't really, though. Other Soldiers don't necessarily agree with your opinions. Some of them hold the exact opposite position. And now their service is being used to argue against their own positions. Not only is that not fair, it's dishonorable. You are allowing yourself, and your service, to be used in an inappropriate way to sell a message that does not represent all service members. You are not the entire United States Army, Air Force, Marines, or Navy. You aren't all Privates, or all Infantrymen, or all Pilots. You are you.
You have a perfect right to share your point of view. You have the perfect right to express whatever political message you like, too. But why not do it as you, not as Private anyone, but just as you? You may get a few less views or shares, but you'll be speaking honestly and not misrepresenting your views as the views of any group of people who have not actually chosen you as their mouthpiece. And anyone reading or hearing your arguments will be reacting to you, honestly. You'll know that, if they agree with you, it's because you made your points well enough to convince them, without relying on a gimmick or the magic shield provided by your service.
If you don't abuse your service to pretend to an authority you don't have, it adds authenticity when you are talking about things specifically related to your military experience. Sergeant Brown's opinion about attending a military funeral, or reinstating the draft, or dealing with PTSD, can be a powerful message, made more so by the knowledge that you have been there. You water that down when too many people associate our service with every damn opinion coming down the pike. So save it up. Use it when it counts. And just be you. Now go out there and exercise your First Amendment Rights to free speech. You earned it.