Wednesday, April 29, 2015

If you want to understand radicalization and/or the “issues” of war veterans, try this on for size…

In the reporting of slews of young people with good upbringing, from modern well informed countries becoming “radicalized”, or war veterans falling through the gaping “cracks” in the social system, or growth in gang problems, or veteran suicide, and more, I frequently hear words to the effect of “Why? What could be so ____________ (fill in the blank) that they would do that?”  I never cease to be amazed by this, or the amounts of time and money that are spent chasing the chimera of false understanding that wants to rationalize the problem as anything BUT the real problem.

Elliot Ackerman, author of the newly released "Green on Blue" talked with the host of The Takeaway on Thursday (19 Feb, 2015) about the underlying issue of young men throughout a difficult world being at “loose ends” and looking for "purpose". He is a veteran of five Marine Corp deployments to Iraq & Afghanistan and makes the highly accurate observation that the essence of the warrior - nobility, camaraderie, esprit de corp, and the relatively clearly defined, highly responsible role available in a war situation - create the "crystal meth of purpose" for young men who are living lives particularly devoid of self-defined or self-evident purpose. He makes this observation in the context of the apparent similarities in the function and opportunities for a recruiter for IS and a recruiter for the Marines. Then he makes, almost as an aside, what I considered the stunningly accurate connection with what happens when the conflict ends and that young man goes home. He relates how the opportunities presented by routine civilian life - where the level of responsibility is not 1/10th that of the military environment, where so many never actually lead anybody and those who do are in their 40's before they are trusted to do that, where the collected opportunities of life are the functional equivalent of the "light beer" of purpose - are so underwhelming, so disappointing, in some cases so devastating that the root of PTSD and depression probably has much more to do with the sudden radical demotion of role, responsibility, and purpose as any of the "accepted/ correct” reasons such as battle field fatigue or dealing with death in combat. 

Now (and THESE are my words) - Realizing you will never again have that kind of experience, as much because of your social setting/position, and the prevailing structures of your society, as anything else - not because of any shortcoming in you - that the rest of your life will be sitting on your front porch drinking "light beer" - is so hugely demoralizing and enervating that it can account for almost any form of emotional state, mental health issue, or deviant behavior. So… the next time you encounter a (wo)man of any age who "served their country" in the military as a young (wo)man and who has attempted to make a realistic life after their military time was done, think about this. THINK HARD about this. Think about what it is like when you ask someone to be their VERY BEST, and they DO it, and then, when they come home, you don't show any respect for that, you don't ask them to continue to be their best, to continue to bring that to "the party", you don't even invite them to "the party"…  If you don't present even a bad approximation of a good opportunity to build on what they know, what they have done, WHO THEY HAVE BECOME…  there are consequences. 

If you encounter ANY man (or woman), of any age, who "served his/her country" in the military as a young person, and (s)he seems "driven", or "sad", or "desperate", or "angry", or slightly off center… ALL THE TIME… even though life seems perfectly "normal" to you, try some understanding instead of the all too familiar dismissal, disrespect, and holier-than-thou rationalization. The disappointment NEVER goes away. The need for purpose NEVER goes away. The sense of loss is palpable. Having a sense of place and purpose is IMPERATIVE for their good health and well being jut as it is for yours. The difference is that they have been to the top of the mountain and now they are relegated, by their own people, to the rock pile at the bottom. That dog just don't hunt. Only if they are very lucky or inordinately obstreperous will they overcome any part of this. Otherwise they will spend the rest of their lives dying… slowly - at your expense.

On that note, maybe it’s time to seriously review our modern societies and our social structures, with an intensive focus on if, how, and when they deliver functional respect and inspire purpose – purpose that will last a life time, and be an inspiration to the next generation to do the same. Maybe we need to seriously consider how much of ALL of our major issues relate to this fundamental denial of respect and purpose to the large majority of the population. Disenfranchisement, denial of opportunity, and worse, denial of basic respect are short paths to hopeless. Hopeless is the blood brother of radicalization, and desperate action of almost any kind. It’s not about “bad” Islam and “good” western civilization; it’s about being human and lack (or loss) of purpose, respect, and hope.

Thanks for being there and being you, and thanks for caring enough to reading this

Copyright, Feb 2015

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