Earlier in Independence Week we published this piece partially about the now-controversial fireworks signs. It caused some strong reactions, even among our minions. Hernandez now expands upon the signs, entitlement, and victimhood. Mad Duo
Signs, Of Veteran Entitlement.
I won’t go into too much detail, since I’m sure most of you have heard of this already. But apparently some veterans are so traumatized by their wartime service they’re asking people to “be courteous with fireworks” around their homes on July 4th. Because fireworks “trigger” their PTSD.
These signs are being popularized by an organization called “Military with PTSD”, which according to CNN has sent the signs to 2500 veterans and has 3000 more on a waiting list. According to the organization’s founder, the signs aren’t intended to make people stop using fireworks, they’re just asking people to be “courteous”. “No veteran that served the United States wants to take a freedom away from people, especially fireworks, which represent freedom,” she said. “They don’t want them to stop. What they’re asking for is for people to give them a heads up.”
IT’S THE FOURTH OF JULY. Isn’t that heads up enough? Are these signs about “helping vets with PTSD”, or catering to some veterans’ sense of entitlement?
As a combat vet myself, I’ve had – to say the least – a strong reaction to these signs. My gut feeling was something along the lines of, “This is ridiculous. These signs don’t have anything to do with treating PTSD, they’re just a way for some veterans to beg for attention and be special snowflakes.” But I try to be fair, and realize my experiences have given me significant biases. So I tried to rationally analyze the pros and cons of putting those signs in veterans’ yards.
And after careful consideration, I can only conclude that these signs are pathetic, self-defeating crap.
John Adams wrote in 1776 that the Declaration of Independence ought to be celebrated with fireworks. I haven’t found a record of fireworks being used to celebrate in 1776; however, we’ve celebrated with fireworks since literally the first Independence Day commemoration in 1777. We did it while we were at war for our very existence, yet the men who survived massed musket fire and bayonet charges managed to endure fireworks displays without putting “pleafe be ye courteouf with ye olde firework” signs in their front yards.
It goes without saying, or at least it should, that past generations of American warriors experienced combat far worse than that of the typical Iraq or Afghanistan veteran. Yes, today’s warriors have fought some hard fights (Fallujah, Najaf and Sangin come to mind). But in terms of scale, casualties and intensity our wars have been different than many before. We haven’t endured three or four thousand KIAs in a single day like at Normandy and Antietam, or two thousand in 76 hours as at Tarawa. Yet the men who crossed sabers on Civil War battlefields or waded through surf, blood and dead comrades to a beach swept with machinegun bullets and shellfire somehow endured fireworks displays without putting signs in their yards.
What makes veterans of today’s wars different?
We’re not draftees. We’re volunteers. Anyone who enlisted or reenlisted after 9/11 volunteered for military service while our nation was at war. We went to war because of the choices we made, and many of us went back to war because of those same choices. Some veterans consider that wartime service an honor and privilege; the more intense the combat, the greater the honor and privilege.
And we see a growing divide not just between veterans and civilians, but between distinct groups of veterans. Some feel our service made us stronger and more resilient; others see themselves as damaged, and want everyone to know they’re damaged. At least 5500 of them want to advertise their problems to their neighbors, and some of those posted their photos on the internet to share their problems with the world. The cognitive dissonance displayed in some of those photos is astounding; maybe it’s just me, but I see a slight contradiction between someone saying they’re a hardened combat vet yet are uncomfortable with fireworks.
This photo is almost perfect. What’s better than advertising “I’m a combat vet with PTSD, I’m armed and I might react irrationally to fireworks”? The only way to improve it is to add a bottle of whiskey, to achieve the “drunken vet with PTSD and a gun” trifecta.
I have to ask, what do these “combat veterans” expect to actually accomplish with these signs? At best, their close neighbors might see the signs and refrain from using fireworks. But what about the neighbors one street over? What about the people who live ten houses down, never drive past the combat vet’s house and have no idea he’s sensitive to fireworks? Some fireworks can be seen and heard from literally miles away; is the sign going to somehow protect the veteran from fireworks in other neighborhoods?
Sure, these vets “aren’t asking anyone not to use fireworks”. Right. How is one “courteous” with fireworks, short of not using them? Rules and expectations regarding fireworks are already in place: don’t shoot them at other people’s houses, don’t use them in the middle of the night, don’t use them to intentionally bother people. Those rules apply to everyone. We don’t need signs reminding people not to be douches with fireworks.
God forbid these veterans hear unexpected thunder someday. Maybe they should put up a sign saying “Combat veteran lives here. No thunder allowed.”
So other than shouting “I’m damaged and special”, the signs accomplish nothing. And who are we combat vets to ask anyone to change what they do on July 4th? The “I proudly served in combat and I’m better for it” crowd isn’t asking America to change 239 years of tradition. Most of us miss combat, and love fireworks because they remind us of battle.
We wouldn’t ask our neighbors to refrain from using the fireworks we’ve loved since childhood. That would be ridiculous and selfish. We served our nation, we don’t expect it to serve our sensitivities. But the “I’m damaged and special” group sees things differently.
My cynicism strongly suggests to me that the majority of these “combat vets” aren’t combat vets at all. If their service records were examined, I’d expect to learn that most never left the wire, were subjected to sporadic and wildly inaccurate rocket and mortar fire while stationed on a huge FOB, and since returning home have milked the “traumatized veteran” myth for all its worth. That myth is easy to milk; “how to fake PTSD” discussions are online, with gems of wisdom such as,
“It is hard to get diagnosed with PTSD. However, if you act crazy enough you’ll eventually get it. I beat my wife a few times, got a few DUIs, went crazy on a few people including police officers and I got me a big montly check. Now I hang out at the gym, drink beers in the evening and got to counseling every once in a while to prove that I’m still crazy. Since I am almost 100% PTSD people expect me to act crazy so I get away with a few things. Don’t give up and you’ll get your check.”
And keep in mind you don’t even have to experience trauma to be diagnosed by the VA with PTSD. A rule passed by the VA in 2010 “…establishes that noninfantry personnel can qualify for PTSD disability if they had good reason to fear danger, such as firefights or explosions, even if they did not actually experience it.” (https://www.aei.org/publication/ptsds-diagnostic-trap/). Because of that rule, among other reasons, if I ever see one of these signs in a front yard my first thought will be “He was probably never in actual combat and is just doing this for attention” instead of “that poor warrior fought in so many battles he can’t even be around fireworks anymore”.
Of course, because I wrote this I’ll be accused of not supporting veterans with PTSD, and will likely receive comments suggesting people like me are to blame for veteran suicides. So I’ll address that nonsense now. First, I think anyone with problems should get help for those problems. I mean actual, professional help, rather than engage in attention-seeking behavior that reeks of entitlement. I don’t believe for a second that these signs help anyone with anything, and are actually harmful because they reinforce myths and stigma instead of urging PTSD patients to overcome their problems. I don’t think “garner as much pity as possible” is a step in healing PTSD.
And I’m pushing veterans to commit suicide? Bullshit. The “those war veterans are all sick in the head and you have to be careful around them” lie is. Recall the CNN article I referenced earlier. The title is “How combat veterans are coping with July Fourth fireworks”. Not some combat veterans, not a few combat veterans, but combat veterans period. That headline, and the myth that goes with it, convinces people that we all have problems, rather than acknowledging that most combat vets “cope” with July 4th by lighting fireworks at a barbecue.
Next, I’ll get the inevitable “You can’t compare one veteran’s trauma with another’s” comment. YES, I CAN. It is the height of stupidity to suggest a soldier who literally heard one rocket impact miles away one time suffered the same level of trauma as those who kicked doors in and shot enemy in the face as friends were killed around them. Being traumatized by the possibility of an IED attack that never happened doesn’t equal my experience with IED close calls and long-range firefights, and my experience doesn’t equal those of Marines who fought their way through Hue City. And it’s not just me saying this; even the VA acknowledges not all combat experience is the same, and uses a Combat Exposure Scale to evaluate wartime trauma. In my experience, the people screaming “You can’t judge my combat experience” are the ones who have the least.
No, I’m not saying every last veteran with these signs is full of crap (although my tone sure suggests it). Nor am I saying PTSD doesn’t cause real, verifiable problems and sensitivities to things like fireworks. I am saying, however, that our personal problems are not the general public’s responsibility. If we have issues we need to handle them ourselves, not expect our communities to change their behavior for us.
Every veteran who handles his issues wins a victory that helps us all. Every veteran who embraces victimhood and displays a sense of entitlement reinforces damaging stereotypes that hurt us all. So burn those stupid fucking signs, light some fireworks, and be grateful that your neighbors still celebrate our independence the way we have for over two hundred years.
Mad Duo, Breach-Bang& CLEAR!
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Chris Hernandez Mad Duo Chris (seen here on patrol in Afghanistan) may just be the crustiest member of the eeeee-LIGHT writin’ team here at Breach-Bang-Clear. He is a veteran of both the Marine Corps and the Army National Guard who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also a veteran police officer of two decades who spent a long (and eye-opening) deployment as part of a UN police mission in Kosovo. He is the author of White Flags & Dropped Rifles – the Real Truth About Working With the French Army and The Military Within the Military as well as the modern military fiction novels Line in the Valley and Proof of Our Resolve. When he isn’t groaning about a change in the weather and snacking on Osteo Bi-Flex he writes on his own blog, Iron Mike Magazine, Kit Up! and Under the Radar. You can find his author page here on Tactical 16.