August 26, 2011

The Lack of Culture Devoted to the Military Experience

Abandoned American Embassy - Baghdad
It's difficult to explain what it is like to be a veteran of the modern wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. There is currently a massive divide between military and civilian society in America, and going from the military world of big bases and routine deployments to the real world is like stepping onto another planet. Having spent over two years out of the military and over three years from being in Iraq, it's almost as if my time in the Navy was in a past life. I can still recall what being on a submarine is like: the smell of diesel, people pissed off at the stress and lack of sleep, the zombie-like mentality. However, the person I was back then is practically a stranger to me now. There is a bit of a language barrier between my Thai wife and myself, but even if there wasn't, I could never explain to her about what being in the Navy was like.

I believe a reason for not being able to comprehend my former life is the serious lack of popular culture that discusses the military experience. It can be challenging to reflect on your own experience if no one else is trying to do the same. No man is an island and all that.  Most of the media establishment tends to focus on veterans who have been traumatized by war, and even then, it was more prominent during the Bush era for political reasons. This is an important matter to discuss, but where are the interesting stories about life in the military (no, Stealth does not count)? Hopefully, more veterans will continue using the GI Bill to finish off film school and MFAs, and we will begin to see an emerging trend in mass media similar to what was seen in the great movies following Vietnam (e.g. Platoon, Hamburger Hill, etc.)

Of course, there are a few exceptions. David Bellavia has a great book on Fallujah in 2004. Also, I just finished with Chris Brownfield's book My Nuclear Family, which was an interesting exploration of life as junior officer on a boat in Iraq (I had a much more humble opinion of myself than he does). However, there aren't enough, and hopefully that trend will change over time.

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