4. Emotional Fodder

Roundabouts February of 2023, two visual productions rose simultaneously to fame LinkedIn and elsewhere, one a still image and the other a very well produced video. The former, a photo of a soldier wearing old woodland camouflage trousers and no shirt, shows him clutching his head in presumed anguish while his wife, regally poised in a wingback chair, faces the opposite direction and diddles around on a laptop. The two most obvious elements of this photos are that a) the veteran is shirtless and - despite growing a super lush hipster beard - has maintained very low BMI and b) his wife is wearing heels that effectively accentuate her leg lines and that she also has great taste in dresses but questionable taste in wallpaper. Perhaps we’re also supposed to pick up that there’s some marital strain or something.

Sure enough, relational/marital strain is the precipitating factor for more than half the veterans who blow off their heads, but we’d be hard pressed to specifically blame military service either for the decision or the overarching problem. After all, the same sort of personality who willingly drops everything to commit his life and soul to a war is probably the same personality that may view everything he engages in, to include relationships, through at least a marginally distorted lens. Self is contingent upon others somehow, and success of a multi-part organism (herein a relationship) is critical to that view of self. Jeopardize the organism and self-perception (up to and including worth or lack thereof) suffers alongside it. Or maybe the dude just sucks at communication and his wife thinks Facebook is more interesting. Who the hell knows. We have little doubt what they want us to think here; the presentation is needlessly packed with sexual tension and it’s clear from the veteran’s posture that he’s the victim.

The addition of military fatigues is a cheap prop to illustrate a problem that plagues Americans whether they served in uniform or not; overtly implying that it was the service experience that destined the relationship for failure. This gives military service altogether too much power and the individual all too little personal responsibility. But which would you rather say? “I sacrificed three marriages on the altar of the United States Army,” or “Marriage has been pretty hard and, while my partner bears some responsibility, I’m sure I do too and that also sucks.” The public only rewards one of these statements with cash donations and a national call to assist; at the other they roll their eyes and cite the fact that over half of US marriages end in divorce. Congratulations buddy; you’re a statistic now. Start prowling for that washed up divorcee and see if you can somehow enjoy your remaining years.

The second piece of veteran/public emotion porn is a fabulously-produced video depicting a soldier in full special forces gear (the sort of shit most regulars would never touch and the type that they’d get in trouble for wearing) sporting a moderately bloody cheek. He’s sitting in full battle rattle and gazing off into space while his family enjoys life without him. Battle sounds play subtly in the background. He has the thousand yard stare as he drives the family minivan and while sitting at a picnic table at the park. When the kids swimming out in the lake beckon him into the water, he slowly wanders in and - of course - sinks without a fight. In a metaphor maybe intended to remind us of baptism, the next cut depicts the veteran/first responder retreat organization taking his gun, stripping away the gear, and then some magic yoga mountain spring water zen stuff happens and then suddenly he’s playing with the kids, his wife is satisfied with his involvement, and everything is wonderful.

Barring the small percentage of servicemembers who are indisputably tied in knots with symptoms of PTSD and a true inability to separate from their military experiences, the majority of disengaged veteran fathers and husbands are such because they’re human beings like all the others and because communication sucks, or because the lovely creatures they call wives are still complete aliens, or simply because both people in the relationship are broken people.

Or maybe it’s because that’s how they began developing from an early age, growing up in generationally shit households, their own dads throwing them across the room, navigating broken homes and small towns lacking opportunity, yearning for something more, finding a home at least temporarily in the military, then getting out only to discover that the yearning and the lack of sure footing still remained. Yet since the pinnacle was service and the depths of despair the immediate aftermath, the uniform gets the blame, the public sends thoughts and prayers and opens their pocketbooks, the VA sends them a tax free check once a month, and the other spouse is stuck with a guy who is unwaveringly committed to avoiding self-reflection. After all, the Army did this to him.

People are hard, relationships are hard, disappointments abound, and we should do better than only giving a damn if our friends once wore camouflage. Normal people are expected to grow and generally held at least partially accountable if they don’t. Why not veterans? A boldly proclaimed “thank you for your service” doesn’t cut the bacon.

Copyright ©, Ben Shaw, 2023
no part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the author
(linking to this work, however, is deeply appreciated)


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