by Steve Russell
IN THE LAST several weeks I have learned a great deal about myself, thanks to all the wonderful media reports about serving and returning war veterans. For example, I have learned that I might want to kill my wife because of the trauma of war. Or, if I have no beef with my family, that I might go after my neighbors instead. Or if there are no other handy targets for my aggression, I might go after myself.
While waiting to appear on a talk show, I learned that combat veterans are "all a little bit on the edge." One brilliant commentator even suggested that combat soldiers and private security contractors tend to be the types of individuals that have a propensity to harm others and commit acts of violence.
As if I was not sufficiently depressed after absorbing these diatribes (perhaps it was just those suicidal tendencies), I also learned that the term "hero" no longer applies to hundreds of thousands of veterans who have served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, according to a Men's Health magazine I read while getting a haircut, only miscreants who jeopardize fellow soldiers by deserting their units in wartime exhibit true courage. Although I don't feel the term is fitting for myself, I never imagined the term "hero" could be used interchangeably with the word "AWOL" in a mainstream magazine.
Hollywood has also done its part to help educate our fellow Americans about those of us who served. Films like In the Valley of Elah, starring Oscar winners Charlize Theron and Tommy Lee Jones, Redacted by Brian De Palma, MTV's Stop Loss, or even the Oscar-nominated documentary No End In Sight will reassure my neighbors that even if I don't kill them or myself, I have surely committed horrible atrocities against women and children and never really did find any of those bad guys that my nation decorated me for killing to save the lives of others.
As I have pondered these grotesque assaults on Iraq and Afghan war veterans and wartime civilian contractors in recent months, the picture has become quite clear. If our successes in battle cannot be argued against, then the subtle undermining of our honor and integrity seems to be the next best thing. It really is the oldest political game in the book. Muddy the facts. The fact that an American civilian is five to six times more likely to murder you than a returning vet does not matter. Don't bother with the data that shows an increase in domestic suicide since 2000 that exceeds the military rates in the six-year period following. And forget the notion that there really are millions of young men and women that believe in service, sacrifice, and mission. If some of us are a little "on the edge" these days, it's not because of the war but because of the assault on our reputations.
It has been a great honor to serve my country and to serve in this war. While we must help those in the most serious need and provide them with the care they deserve, it is also time to treat the 1.5 million veterans of this war as the honorable Americans we really are.
LTC Steve Russell, US Army, (Ret.), a central player in the hunt for and capture of Saddam Hussein, is the founder and chairman of Vets for Victory. He is a veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan.