A Good Article from Vox

'How do we help veterans re-integrate into American society?' asks Vox. The answer they get: 'Why should they wish to?'
Basically, soldiers in combat experience something that's a pretty close reproduction of our evolutionary past. We evolved to live in groups of 30, 40, 50 people functioning very closely. Sleeping together, eating together, doing everything together. Our survival depended on the group.

That's our evolutionary past. It's also life in combat. It's even life in a platoon at a rear base. Most of the military does not fire their weapons at the enemy, do not get shot, but they do function in these close, tight-knit groups, and those emotional bonds become incredibly important. That's what we're wired for....

Then they come back and they see a country which is racially divided, it's economically divided, it's politically divided. There powerful wealthy people frankly getting away with enormous financial crimes without consequences. It's a country at war with itself, and I think on some level, unconsciously or consciously, it must be quite complicated for soldiers who risked their lives for this country, were wounded maybe, lost friends, to come back and see that the thing they were fighting for is fighting with itself. I think that must be incredibly demoralizing...

[D]o they really want to be re-integrated? The point of my book is that it's a fragmented, alienated society with very high suicide rates. Do we want to help them transition back to something that's psychologically toxic? Is that really doing them a service? The fact that they are psychologically rebelling against the transition home says something very healthy about them, because they're transitioning to something that if you look at rates of mental illness is obviously not doing anyone much good.
From a philosophical perspective, I want to add to this picture. Aristotle says that the goal of ethics is eudaimonia, a state of happy flourishing that you find when all of your vital powers are aligned in rational activity. More, he says, to fully experience this state you need a community that is set up to support it. The military deployed comes much closer to attaining Aristotle's ideal than anything else I've seen in the world. Everyone is working together towards some strategic good. They all have different jobs, but those jobs must align. Thus, there is constant rational communication and consideration of how to align different fires on a target, or different staff sections on a mission. This 'small, close knit' community is also a community that works together toward some goods that they pursue together through rational activity.

War being war, as Clausewitz says, 'everything is simple, and the simplest things are hard.' Thus, one needs all of one's vital powers in alignment to accomplish these goals. It is a very engaging sort of life.

It may well be that the broader society lacks a number of things that these smaller, close-knit and rationally ordered communities offer. Are these goods we can replicate? Certainly: any number of organizations could be set up to pursue goods in this way, although they will not all be as fully engaging of all of one's vital powers absent the extremes of war.

Are they goods that we do replicate? No, not really, not for the most part. Indeed, in the current economy, large numbers of Americans are simply left idle. They can pursue their own goods, of course, but without a community or the resources one provides toward enabling that pursuit. They can set up their own communities, but then these are perceived as a danger by the broader society.


raven said...

Yes, Why? They have formed perhaps the closest bonds they ever will, as you have stated. "Gung Ho", indeed. (in the actual translation sense).

a state of happy flourishing that you find when all of your vital powers are aligned in rational activity.

Like running a small business where people are happy working on a common goal of providing a desired product and making money without being harassed by 37 government agencies all meddling with the business to the point where where half the companies energy is spent complying with an ever increasing host of regulatory insanity?

Grim said...

Well, a small business, perhaps. But not a corporation: in a corporation, the good being pursued is strictly limited (by law) to 'increasing shareholder value.' Corporations love to talk about how they're all about doing good in the world, or improving communities, but they really do have a very limited mission.

I think of my father, of course. He worked for AT&T (and, after divestiture, Southern Bell, then BellSouth, then AT&T again). But, though he enjoyed his job, it was not where he found meaning. He found meaning in the Volunteer Fire Department. He made bonds similar to the ones he'd known in the Army, and they risked their lives together to save people's lives and homes from fire or accident on the road.

After his death last month, some of his work friends sent cards. The Fire Department was there in the room where he died. They helped mom find the best place to handle his remains, took care of the flag ceremony, helped arrange the wake, and mowed her grass while she was away visiting my sister.

That's the kind of society that works. But how many communities still have Volunteer Fire Departments? They passed through fire together, literally, and forged bonds of the same kind as the military's. Yet it's no longer a thing that most of America does.

J Melcher said...

My father's generation seemed to be much more inclined than my own to bond in civic-fraternal groups like Lions, Kiwanas, Rotary, Masonic Lodge, Optimists ... The mission might be no more than re-sodding the softball field for the kids' little league, or fund-raising for "Jerry's Kids" on the holiday, but they did meet, set goals, plan, organize, delegate responsibility, show up (in "uniform") keep score, report back to the larger group later...

E Hines said...

It sounds more like an excuse to continue abusing our vets by holding them separate from the society which they left, now that they've returned from sacrificing so much to defend it.

If this came from someplace else than Vox, it might be believable.

Eric Hines

raven said...

The vets coming home from WW2 WERE the country- the local drug store owner was a tank commander in Patton's Army, the school janitor flew B-17's over Regansburg (not making this up) the math teacher was a machine gunner on Iwo. They knew each other in principle, they had an "understanding" of the world and the war. And all the women too.

Now the returning vets are a tiny fraction of the population, most of whom are totally ignorant of the military,and don't have a clue of the responsibility the soldiers carry. I certainly can't blame them for feeling alienated. I'm no shrink, but that feeling has got to affect the PTSD. Not only scarred, but nobody to talk to in daily life.

Grim said...

This is allied to the point about the Naval officer talking to the Garden Club, from yesterday. Two generations ago, the Garden Club would have known what the Naval officer should say about the relative importance of the ship's mission versus the mother and child: they'd do their best for her, but the mission must come first (and we'll ship her and the babe to a safe port as soon as there's a reasonable opportunity).

The society now doesn't even understand that most basic fact. They do have a view of the world that is detached from reality, and a society that is alienated and disheartening (as well as corrupt in the places of wealth and power).

Why should the veterans wish to reintegrate, indeed?

Eric Blair said...

Because it's their duty, that's why.

If their service is to mean anything beyond the mercenary, then they need to not only integrate back into society, but also participate in it, shape it, maintain it, live it, enjoy it. Going up the mountain and closing the gate behind you is not going to improve things.

Now, none of what I said should be done might be possible because there just aren't enough veterans, given the small numnbers involved--but I think they're obligated to try.

It won't be like after WWII. As it was pointed out, those men and women *were* the country because the vast numbers that were drafted--16 million served out of a population of 140 million.

Keep that same proportion today, and that's 35 million in uniform.

The actual numbers today are just over 2 million including all the reserve components.

It's a big job.

I'll also throw out there that today's veterans are the veterans of an imperial army. Especially since the end of the draft. A self-selected pool of individuals that is different from the draftees of WWII or even Korea or Vietnam. There are probably issues with that fact that no one has even thought about. Certainly not the writers at Vox.

Grim said...

I'm not sure we're talking about the same things entirely. Suggesting that they might prefer a Volunteer Fire Department to 'integrating' into mainstream society doesn't seem to me like I'm suggesting they stop doing their duty as citizens. In fact, I'd think it was obvious that VFD service is very good citizenship.

You're right, though, that we're talking about a tiny minority. I'm not sure they won't achieve more by thinking of themselves as a group with interests, rather than by blending back in to the society as a whole. Gays and lesbians don't make up 3% of the nation, but they've managed to fundamentally alter the laws in their favor these last few years. Veterans are a bigger minority than that, and could presumably have an effect if they could hang together.

Eric Blair said...

You know, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania are full of volunteer fire departments. They just aren't in the big cities. You couldn't even do that, I don't think, if you wanted to.

Gays and Lesbians make up a larger percentage of the 'creative class' than the general population, and 50 years of relentless propaganda has effects.

I think that's why Breitbart was talking about recapturing the culture.

Ymar Sakar said...

Everyone has to integrate into the broader mainstream culture, even if we hate it or despise it.

However, that doesn't mean our loyalties go there. People should find those with common causes and join together in a grassroots organization. For some people, it's politics. For others, it is their hobbies. For military families, it's got to be more than just shooting clubs, hobbies like hunting, or the military wives club.

All of that can help, but it doesn't entirely replace the singularity of purpose.

What they should get is a chain of command, even in civilian life. One that is not merely economic, like a boss or corporation. Something worthy of holding their loyalty. Religion has helped many people deal with their guilt, irregardless of the truth or falseness of the gospels taught. But joining a cult or an evil religion is just as possible as joining a good one. That's the problem with dealing with humans and human poison. In the military, they didn't have a choice. Now that they have freedom, what they fought for, they have to make the best use of it. Yet in some ways, not having the freedom to disobey orders, made things simpler if not easier.

Male humans like operating in a pack hierarchy. A civilian life where there is a lot of disorder and no order, no unified chain of command that works as the NCOs do, is troublesome. Mere hobby groups can't fill that need. Meeting with veteran buddies can let them get steam off and talk about the good old times, but it is not a hierarchy, it is a round table of equals.

People without good leaders, have a hard time role modeling themselves after success. Perhaps that is why Americans are obsessed with the next Great Glorious hero king in the white house. They see some people stepping up in their local towns and neighborhoods, and believe it should extend as a unified hierarchy all the way to the White House. But it doesn't.