One of the most disgraceful aspects of the Vietnam War era in this country was the treatment of veterans upon their return. Around the country veterans were called names and derided for serving their country in an unpopular war. I was commissioned in 1975, so I missed the personal attacks. Regardless, anyone on active duty back then could not help but sense the lack of popularity of military service in some people’s eyes.
The poor treatment was not universal, and some people might even argue that the hostility was based from a vocal minority.
On a personal level, I felt the mood begin to swing back during the Reagan years. This attitude change culminated in my eyes with the truly inspiring wave of patriotism and support during Operations Desert Shield and Storm. This positive feeling continued for quite some time.
Once we recovered from the initial shock of 9/11, the support for men and women in our armed forces soared to new heights and rightfully so. Whether hearing about special operations forces on horseback and light Infantry fighting through the mountains of Afghanistan or the armored vehicles and superb soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division crushing Saddam Hussein’s forces in Iraq, we as a nation appeared to have overcome the stigma of Vietnam and the expectation that soldiering was bad.
Even with the frustration of not finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the growing casualty lists, the American people and entertainment media were able to separate the policies from the men and women who had to implement those policies. Politics did not affect the attitude toward soldiers or their portrayal in the media.
I’m beginning to wonder if a subtle change is under way.
Over the last few of months I’ve noticed in some of my favorite television shows the portrayal of military servicemen as the central villains. I know that a few people in military service commit crimes. Everyone wearing a uniform is not a saint. Nonetheless, I do think that violent crime by service men and women against other service personnel and especially against the civilian population is relatively low.
But these shows have had special operations forces as domestic terrorists, a male soldier blowing up a female soldier in a limousine due to a love triangle, a gay Marine killing his cross-dressing father who is a church pastor, and two commissioned officers selling weapons to the Taliban.
Much of the reason this struck me as a change was because these shows were broadcast within the span of six months and were all on action dramas that I watch -- no comedies for me! The concentration of plots with servicemen as the bad guys surprised me.
I also feel that all of the plots were a stretch because the servicemen were portrayed as having unrealistic access to dangerous materials and the proclivity to carry out violent acts that often were beyond my imagination. The scenarios just seemed outlandish with regard to the basic acts that occurred and attitudes that allowed them. I felt like the writers were being creative to invent situations that otherwise simply made no sense.
This may be nothing, of course. My having seen these shows vilify specific (not all) military personnel may simply have been a coincidence, and the timing may be even more of one. The first show was broadcast at the end of February, but the others were shown this summer. The change caught my attention because I did not recall anything derogatory to military service personnel in my recent memory.
I hope I’m imagining things, because we still have young men and women going in harm’s way every day. I truly would hate to see them subjected to the treatment that afflicted so many military personnel during my college years and my first years in the Army. All of us owe them better.
John M. House, an independent correspondent and retired Army colonel living in Midland, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.