Once upon a time, before the Vietnam War Memorial, all Vietnam veterans were considered by each other to be equal. After the Memorial was finished things changed.

        What changed the way some Vietnam War veterans thought about themselves and the men and women who served with them in Vietnam was the campaign by some Vietnam 'combat' vets to build the Three Soldier Statue. Many Vietnam War veterans opposed the Statue because they felt, and predicted, that it's very design magnifying the role of the "grunt" would denigrate the role of the combat support soldier, sailor, airman and Marine. This prediction turned out to be accurate.

        Since the Vietnam War Memorial was 'divided' by those who felt rifle-carrying military service deserved more respect, attention, reward and recognition than the combat support casualties named on the Wall we have witnessed many changes in the way veterans in all of our wars are treated, and the way some treat each other.

        On the official side we have seen the Department of Veteran Affairs succumb to unrelenting pressure by combat veterans to install a 'patient enrollment system' which prioritizes combat related injuries above non-combat medical needs... a liver bearing a bullet scar gets priority treatment over a liver affected by military-related disease or bio-hazard. Fraternally, we have seen fragmentation in veteran's organizations where combat veterans insist upon occupying the highest offices and titles. And we are reading on the internet expressions of contempt among some infantry veterans toward non-infantry war vets.

        Combat support roles in all branches of the United States military have increased manyfold over our wars as we evolved industrially and technologically. The ratio of combat support over combat will continue to increase as scientific advances provide our troops better and safer ways to engage enemy forces with fewer loss of American life. In Vietnam the combat-to-combat support ratio was 17 to 1... it took seventeen support personnel to back up each infantryman or fighter pilot. Yet, as not a single combat person could have performed his trained and assigned mission, much less survived, without the support and protection of seventeen other Americans, we are seeing and reading about more and more combat personnel expressing their contempt for the men and women who fed, clothed, armed and supplied them, or maintained their communications links or healed their wounds.

        This contempt does not go without a heavy price. We are witnessing increasing numbers of non-combat veterans refusing to join veterans groups. As a result, membership numbers are plummeting and hundreds of local organizations across the country are disappearing. We are also witnessing great numbers of young adults shy away from military service because they do not want to be attacked years later for not carrying a rifle as their primary military profession. We are also witnessing some hostile combat vets with a political beef attacking war veteran candidates who served overseas in combat support roles. And, we are seeing fewer visitors attend military and veteran ceremonies on our two national holidays. The bone-deep hatred expressed by some combat veterans on the internet for men and women who shared their uniform is being read, and felt, by Americans of all generations.

        What began with the VA being affected by combat-prioritization has now creeped into America's national security and readiness, and public appreciation for military service. Just as more and more veterans are deciding to avoid seeking VA medical care because of its new 'combat vet first' policy that will inevitably result in the shutdown or consolidation of no longer needed VA facilities, we will see fewer veterans decide to run for political office resulting in fewer veteran-specific legislation offered or passed. As the upcoming Presidential campaign heats up we will see a continued effort by some 'combat vets' to cheapen and denigrate the military service of war veterans who did not serve on the 'front line'. Some political watchers have identified the source of this hostility to be coming from non-war candidates who served in the military but avoided duty in Vietnam or other war zones.

        The War in Vietnam and the perpetually divisive few the war produced have, it seems, powerfully affected some American's traditional view of military and war service. Although many hoped the success of the Gulf War would restore sensibilities back to normal, that is, back to post-WW2 pride in military service, President George Bush's failure to decisively and irrefutably win the Gulf War by removing Sadaam Hussein, coupled with the devastating economic recession associated with that campaign, prevented Americans from feeling we had achieved a true victory. A correction to sensibility could not be achieved with the outstanding military success in Kosovo because vitriolic political rivalry and post-Vietnam War anger would not permit the current Administration to receive its rightful due for achieving the pre-set U.N. goal for victory... and establishing a record for the first American conflict where not a single G.I. died.

        The upcoming political rivalry will grow hotter, and American veterans will become more divided by those who no longer distinguish between war service and war avoidance, but now between what one did while serving in a war zone.

        The losers in this war waged by a divisive few will be all American veterans.

        Phill Coleman
        Senior Librarian
        The American War Library

        References:

        Bonus March II: A New Beginning

        Veterans Don't Vote
        General Election Poll 1996
        General Election Poll 1992

        The National League of Veteran Voters Project


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