Saturday, March 03, 2007

Parallel Universes and the Military

Guest Post by Susan Falkoff

An interesting controversy erupted in the Watertown TAB this week. Last week’s paper featured a first person account by Capt Stephanie Cooper, a soldier who had the “opportunity” to participate in a team that was sent to cordon and search an Iraqi home, a possible “high value target.” Capt. Cooper’s role was to frisk the women as they emerged from their house in the middle of the night and then “comfort the frightened women and children and keep them out of the way” while the scouts dealt with the men. To Capt. Cooper, including women on this combat team demonstrates “a higher level of cultural sensitivity to the Iraqi people.” When Ms Cooper returned to her room after a miserable boat trip, she was proud of her physical stamina and thought this operation was “the most fun I’ve had since landing in Iraq.”

This week, the TAB printed five letters that saw in Capt. Cooper’s story heartlessness, not courage. These writers contrast the “memories and stories” Capt. Cooper believes will last her a lifetime to the nightmares, sorrow and trauma experienced by the Iraqi people.

The TAB’s editor was startled by the vigorous response. I agree with him that this story became a vehicle for people to project their pre-existing feelings about Iraq.

I think there are two totally separate universes of thought about the military. Universe One is represented by the slogan “Support our Troops.” People in this universe tend to believe that if someone is serving in the US Armed Forces, the purpose and conduct of the mission is basically irrelevant. This universe was created three or four wars ago and, unfortunately, exists in a time warp where it is easy to tell the good guys from the bad. Universe One is well integrated into our town government with a full-time Veteran’s Agent and official events on Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day to remember and honor our veterans and those who gave their lives serving the country. I became more acquainted with this universe while serving on the Town Council.

Universe Two is peopled by those who do not see it as unpatriotic or disrespectful to question what this occupation is all about. One letter asks: What is an “enemy” in Iraq? Who is an “insurgent?” Is it “someone who opposes another group in their own country, or opposes us?” In the opinion of many people in Universe Two, the best way to support the troops is to bring them back home.
One letter writer fears that Capt Cooper will be dehumanized by her experiences. This is certainly possible. She may well join the thousands of other veterans who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and are not finding it easy to get their lives back on track. I suspect that many people in Universe One got their start in life with the help of the WWII GI Bill. Survivors of today’s conflict will not be so lucky. Benefits are being cut, not expanded. As we read this week, injured troops can barely get any medical care much less the long-term psychiatric support they will need. I won’t be surprised if next week there is a flurry of letters and/or Speakout comments