Stigma Of The Returning Veteran

An old buddy of mine sent me the below links recently and was curious for my opinion on the matter.

Campus Bars Veteran Over Combat Stress Essay

A Second Opinion

Essentially what happened is a student, Charles Whittington, wrote an essay in an effort to deal with his wartime experience. In it he graphically describes his so called addiction to killing. It was published in a student newspaper and soon after college officials barred him from campus citing their concern for the safety of other students.

My first knee jerk reaction was outrage at the campus. Upon reading the article further as well as Whittington’s paper I tend to agree more with the Second Opinion piece.

My personal take: As a military professional I am unimpressed with Whittington’s remarks and consider his paper a complete work of fiction. His statements about training and what combat is like are, at best, immature. It makes me question how much combat he saw, particularly close hand to hand fighting. I do not doubt the extent of wounds he received from three separate road side IEDs. However, I do doubt he has ever used a knife on his enemy. Whittington’s writing more resembles violent porn than a reflection of his experience. None of his statements reflect core values of the military and certainly not those of a warrior ethos. He basically claims to have killed at least three people with a knife stating it gave him a feeling he cannot explain having pushed it “…through his stomach or his ribs or slice his throat…” This sounds pretty questionable. He also asserts he was doing what he was trained for. I suspect the number of hours used to train for knife combat in the U.S. Army are minimal before deployment.

Veterans legitimately raised concerns about this guy as there is enough stereotyping going on without him painting vets as sociopathic killers waiting to happen. I’m not convinced it required barring him from campus as I don’t think his paper means he is some kind of danger to his fellow students.  At no time did I read him describe wanting to kill anyone but his enemies in combat. He doesn’t talk about stalking professors by the soda machines or even Middle Eastern students on campus.  As a matter of fact, if the university seriously thought Whittington was a dangerous killer it doesn’t make any sense to me why they would provoke him with a suspension?

Whittington may have problems with PTSD but if he is addicted to killing it is something he had in him before he joined and not due to his military experience. His drinking issues and DUI are classic signs of PTSD (three roadside explosions and missing body parts will do that) but doesn’t remit questionable actions or a lack of integrity. PTSD isn’t an excuse for bad behavior; doctors I have talked to have all stated PTSD does not affect a person’s ability to distinguish between right and wrong. So merely being diagnosed with combat related PTSD doesn’t seem to make you a danger to anyone.

In my experience, Marines with PTSD are usually dealing with issues related to having nearly lost their lives or losing close friends and not issues related to killing their enemy.

Kanani writes on this very story over on the Kitchen Dispatch.  I think her take on the subject is correct.  My concern here is the contrived nature of his writing and the additional negative impact it has on the perception of returning vets.

The answer is for fellow veterans to write of their own experiences and thus refute what Whittington and no doubt others remark about. Indeed, he claims there are “…hundreds of thousands of soldiers like me who feel like me and want their revenge as well.” No, there are not. Revenge is not our business nor fundamentally part of what we are professionally.

Semper Fidelis,
America’s 1stSgt

/ / / /

13 comments

  1. Nice kind of roundup.

    And again I’m left to agreeing with you, yet again.

    It sounds more like he had a problem before he went into a combat-area rather then acquiring one through the events of going through combat.

    Sad for that man. But even worse he is trying to justify it with that addiction thing. Too bad he’s not honest with himself.

    The worst part is where he claims that this is a general problem with combat-vet’s. As if they don’t have enough stuff to carry around themselves already.

    Let’s hope he gets the professional help he needs rather then diverting attention away from those who deserve it. Especially those who won’t ask for it, despite deserving it the most!

    With regards from Germany

  2. As someone with more experience with PTSD than I wish I had, I agree that it sounds like this young man needs treatment.

    The line in the first article that bothers me the most is the quote from his brother that states “We don’t like failure in my family”. In my expereince, this is a “set up” for not being able to process the events of War.

    My gut reaction is like yours – that some of the feelings and experiences he writes about have some poetic licence taken, that he has enhanced them for dramatic effect, or when remembered through the filter of alcohol. And that has now returned to bite him in the ass.

    I can’t help but also see it through the filter of his age. As one of the “old dogs” in my FRG, I am continually re-assuring mothers or young spouses who are getting their 19 yr old loved one’s versions of “war”. And my loved one is continually telling his troops not to tell their home front crap like that.

    Whatever the truth is, I hope this young man gets the help and counselling he needs, and also that he does not learn to hide his feelings and emotions.

    And I hope the school in question, and others, also learn to react in a more appropriate, more reasoned manner, helpful to all.

  3. Thanks for the link.
    If there were such a thing as purple prose in military writing, Whittington would be guilty of committing it.

    I’ve no doubt that he has had problems with readjustment –but his writings did seem over the top. Addicted to killing denotes a compulsion to kill. Does Whittington have a flair for the dramatic? Or is he really talking about a feeling or image that replays in his mind –whether or not it really happened?

    In light of recent problems not only at colleges and high schools, the college was damned if the did, but more damned if they didn’t take action.

  4. Levant, from what I can tell he actually is doing what he needs to in order to get back on track. He’s an A student and is cooperating with college officials. These same officials though need to get over their own bigoted perception of veterans. I bet if they looked in to it vets are some of their best students.

    Oh, and feel free to write away!

    Basinah, seems to me the more embellished the account the less likely it is to be true. It also appears he is getting the help he needs and has turned it all around compared to his drinking and DUI days.

    Kanani, I think the difference is in incidents at other campuses not one of the individuals involved was a combat veteran. The assumption is we come back from war with some kind of blood lust or can’t wait to sign up with the nearest extremist group. Instead of looking in to his history and asking other vets what they thought of his paper they immediately freaked out. I wonder if he was a foreign student if this would not have happened. Funny how it is ok to make assumptions based on military service but not national origin. It’s a slap in the face to have your own treat you like an outcast.

  5. When I read an article , essay or book written by or about Warriors and combat, it is always helpful to hear what the “real” Warriors (i.e. men like you, 1st Sgt) have to say. There is a lot of crap published and not all of it is accurate. Just because something is published in a nice format doesn’t make it correct.
    At work, we once printed a book that claimed all of the diseases we get are caused by liver flukes. It was a very pretty book….lots of pictures.

  6. 1st Sgt, I have to agree with you. When I first read the article and story, my BS meter was registering. No one wants to get involved in hand-to-hand combat, it’s just too messy.

    His PTSD could be triggering hallucinations and nightmares, and if he already has a propensity for wanting to kill, he could very well believe his visions. Whatever the case is, he needs help. If any of us in hand-to-hand combat training in bootcamp professed wanting to kill like that, our drill instructors would have immediately sent us in for a psyc eval.

    His story isn’t the first I’ve heard of a recent combat vet being addicted to killing. I wonder if part of it is our current videogame culture and the inability to differentate reality from fantasy?

  7. Speaking purely as a civilian, accounts like his can be very disturbing. Speaking as a parent, it can be downright frightening. There has long been a knee-jerk reaction in the academic world to disapprove and fear that which is not understood (ironically, as I thought education was supposed to be for the purpose of learning and opening understanding), and veterans and the military are almost anathema to academia. Those things combined can result in the most frightening thing of all: prejudice towards and fear of our veterans. Instead of displaying fear and a lack of sympathy, the administrators should have instead taken the time to learn more about the situation and circumstances of those with similar experiences (veterans) before addressing it. They could then have used it as an opportunity to do what they are there for in the first place: to teach their students. That they did not do so makes me want to say several very rude things my sailor father taught me.

    Thank you for your take on it, A1S. I know that I can never really understand what he and others have been through and must rely on the expertise of those who have been there. I hope he receives effective assistance in addressing the issues he must deal with and that he leads a long, happy life.

    Signed in my ignorance….Jenny

  8. Garrett, I saw that. Pretty cool. Unfortunately I am hurt there is no mention in the 3/3 article about America’s 1stSgt. I am deeply wounded.

    Leslie, as a “real” warrior I can definitely confirm that books with lots are pictures are caused by flukes.

    Cleve, I actually don’t believe he is addicted to killing anything. I would believe it if he said he wanted revenge for 3 IED blasts and losing his finger. That kind of anger could eat you up. I don’t know much about his deployments or what units he was with but his paper didn’t ring true to me.

    Jenny, just because you haven’t been there doesn’t mean your compassion and concern for those who have is lessened. It would be nice if those who represented higher education wouldn’t act ignorantly. Just goes to show everyone is human.

  9. One of the issues that makes PTSD, soldiers and the public’s view of such so problematic is the grotesque idiocy AND the outright manipulation of the news media from the end of the Vietnam War on to nearly the present day.

    All through the late 70s, the 80s and the 90s, we, as a society, were being bombarded with the “stereotypical” Vietnam War Combat Vet.

    He was homeless, violent, drug addled, etc and so on.

    There were even documentaries.

    In those documentaries, many, if not most, of the “veteran suffering metal war-wounds” were either never in the military or were “vietnam ERA vets” who never set foot in a combat zone of any sort, shape or flavor.

    The poser and stolen valor crap didn’t start with 9/11.

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