Re: My Piece On The Charlottesville Vets: An Open Letter To Veterans And Anyone Else Who Cares About This Country

Back on Aug. 17, CNN’s Anderson Cooper interviewed Vice News’ Elle Reeve regarding the events in Charlottesville that resulted in the death of Heather Heyer. Personally, I was shocked to here Ms. Reeve claim the white supremacists were receiving “protection” from the protesters courtesy of Iraq/Afghan war vets who claimed to have been radicalized during their tours overseas.

I was equally shocked to see Cooper just blow past it, as if that type of thing happens all the time, and their exchange inspired me to pen a piece asking the question if any part of serving in combat could send you home with separatist/extreme beliefs, and, if so, does our current Commander-in-Chief condone those thoughts?

The piece was meant to start a dialogue on the subject, but instead, unleashed a troll fest.

As a result, for the past several days, angry vets, and others, nationwide, who apparently felt that the piece was a far too generalizing statement of all members of the military, and that the article missed the mark re; asking if PTSD was a potential cause of the Charlottesville vets’ choice to take up arms and join the neo-nazis, made their voices known, and then some.

Of course, much of the blowback is coming as a result of Fox News’ Sean Hannity being so kind as to retweet the piece (along w/ Michael Flynn, Jr.) and calling on his followers to do the same, but I’m sure there were plenty of others whose political views don’t predispose them to automatically hate/dismiss anything The Huff publishes as “left-wing drivel,” and instead, were legitimately offended.

Believe it or not, I’m actually glad to see such a negative response to the piece, as it shows just how small a percentage the Charlottesville vets make up. But, I’d like to respond to both the article, as well as the response to the article, as the latter should be quite troubling to anyone who believes in open dialogue and communication, no matter how hopeless the situation, as opposed to unilateral vilification.

First, to all veterans, even those of you who support our national embarrassment of a president and will never agree with anything we “liberals” say: if the piece offended you, in any way, you have my sincere apologies. I have three members of the military in my family ― two Marines and an Admiral ― and the thought that I would ever write, say or do anything designed to intentionally ― or unintentionally ― dishonor or disrespect those of you who are out there laying your lives on the line so big mouths like me can spew our opinions, however unpopular and misguided they may be, is simply ridiculous. I have nothing but respect for our veterans and, in my eyes, we’re all Americans first, and right/left/middle second. Additionally, I don’t go around talking about it, but my band recently lent our services to the Hoboken V.F.W. and helped to raise over $15k for vets in need of assistance.

Nonetheless, I can understand why many of you took offense to the piece, those of you who at least took the time to read it, that is, and didn’t simply react to a provocative headline, or are prone to immediately condemn anything a putz like Hannity tells you to.

Was the title provocative? Hell, yes. Was it designed to get your attention? Of course. Are writers/editors/journalists always taught to go for the eye-catching log line ― especially in this climate of the sixty-minute news cycle? You guessed it. Did I expect it to get this much attention? Heck, no. Nor, did I expect the insults/threats to pour in as if I called Patton a pussy.

But, that’s OK. I could’ve easily deleted my Twitter feed and blocked all my social media accounts, especially with the amount of threats received, and especially since, as many of you happily pointed out - I have virtually no followers, anyway - but that would have defeated the purpose of the article; which was/is to start a dialogue. So, insults, anger, hate, misunderstandings, misrepresentations and all, here we are.

Rather than go underground and move to a cabin in Montana, I’ve spent the better part of the past forty-eight hours talking with vets from all across the country. Believe it or not, for every ten or twenty who chose to give in to immediate rage and anger, there were one or two who reached out with the hopes of connecting to find out why the piece was written the way it was, to convey the reasons behind their displeasure - i.e. while PTSD is a serious problem there’s no apparently no real proof connecting it to separatist beliefs; that the Charlottesville vets make up an infinitesimal percentage of veterans, overall, etc. -, and to try and educate/inform me re: what they’ve seen/learned through their time in some of the worst scenarios a human being can ever be put in, and how they rely on those of other nationalities/ethnicities to routinely watch their backs.

To those of you who took the time and didn’t just dismiss me, the piece, the publication, and the ‘liberal media’ in general as a useless waste of time, I am grateful we spoke - some for hours - as I have a much better and clearer understanding of what a soldier goes through from start to finish, as well as a better picture of the military, in general, and what it’s doing to try and minimize these types of unfortunate situations.

But, also remember, this was an opinion piece written by someone with no prior military experience simply asking a question, which I’m well within my rights to do. One doesn’t need to be a pilot to raise the issue of air traffic safety. This was not a fact-based study released by military psychologists at West Point declaring “all vets cowards.” Not sure where some of you even got that beauty from - probably the same ones who will denounce this piece, as well, even before reading it - and while you’re free to disagree with anyone’s opinion, to go as far as to make veiled - and not so veiled - threats towards anyone - especially considering, as many of you so eloquently point out, you fought for my right to spew such garbage - is beneath the very honor and dignity you claim to be defending.

However, I agree, one thing I could have done a better job of pointing out, which many, including my cousin the Admiral mentioned, is that the military is a shining example of race/ethnic/gender integration. That’s a known fact. You have blacks/whites/latinos - even Muslims, serving alongside one another, and a massive effort is made to teach all to assimilate as a brotherhood. Of course, now that our so-called Commander-in-Chief has seen fit to ban transgenders from serving, that policy may change a bit, but the overall intent by most still stands.

I could write about the half dozen or so vets I spoke with, all of whom shared instances of experiencing/witnessing episodes of racial intolerance during their tours of duty, but that wasn’t the point of the piece. And, to be fair, those same vets are quick to point out, while these instances do exist, compared to everyday society and the workplace, instances of racial intolerance in the military are far below average.

Having said that, there are those like Sgt. Michael Cunningham, a paratrooper from the infamous 173rd who saw the worst of the worst in Afghanistan’s Korengal valley. Sgt. Cunningham’s roommate was PFC Juan Restrepo, the medic whose death inspired the award-winning doc. Restrepo.

Out of the many things Sergeant Cunningham and I discussed at length, the one point that stands out, in light of the article, is that, while he, too, believes the military is the best example of a melting pot our country can offer, as far as the army is concerned, he goes as far to say he estimates about 20% of the men/women enlisted range from possessing, at the very least, a subconscious streak of intolerance and, at the worst, full on racist views. (Worthy to note the sergeant also points out that as the beliefs become more extreme, the % dwindles, to the point where only one in about two thousand share those thoughts, and the one guy in his company who did go extreme, everyone else HATED him).

Additionally, this type of outlook has nothing to do with PTSD; rather, they enlist this way and their feelings/beliefs intensify as they’re taught to focus on “killing the enemy” as part of their training. He talked about how you’re trained to go over there with the attitude to “...kill some ‘Mucks’” (Muslim fucks), and that even the Muslims you’re serving with apparently get fired up at the thought. Quite a paradox, and one meant to examine the causes/necessity/training behind the act of war, in general. Again, another topic entirely, but worth noting.

The one question the sergeant had a tough time answering is, how does one go overseas and fight to liberate Muslims, and others, from ruthless tyranny and persecution, then return home and support a guy whose mission it is to send them all back where they came from? Sgt. Cunningham attributes those instances to guys who just ‘do their job’ and leave, always being careful not to get too close, for fear of identifying and sharing their despair.

Again, agree or disagree, these are the opinions of someone who has been there, who has lived through the worst of it and talks about it only from a place of trying to heal and make the situation better. It’s worthy to note Sgt. Cunningham is on a commendable - and probably impossible - mission as we speak: to not only try and educate those with the immense responsibility of defending our nation to fight from a position of love, not hate, and, probably even more improbable, to help restore the Republican party to respectful status and remove the hateful/discriminating elements within. That’s a tall order, and a topic for another piece, as well.

As far as the blowback is concerned, it’s disheartening on many levels. Obviously, no one likes to be the target of bullies, and you’d have to be living under a rock to not recognize we’re living in a culture that feeds into the fact we’re tearing each other apart on a daily basis, but to see the hate as it exists around you in articles, sound bites, cable news shows, etc., is one thing. To have it focused on you, in all its glorious misery, is another.

Just FYI, to those of you who reacted with such vitriol and expended effort/energy to call for my public execution, keep in mind, responding in such an organized and furious mob-mentality kind of way, especially to a writer with hardly any followers on social media, does the exact opposite of what you’re apparently trying to do, which is banish me to the virtual graveyard of the online hacks.

Instead, good or bad, your constant trolling/retweeting inadvertently gives me more of a voice and a platform, not less. IMO, the thing to do would have been to ignore me and the article, as most of my pieces have been, and thus, you would’ve achieved your goal of sending me out to rot, without anyone bothering to look twice. But going to the trouble of creating a hashtag, just legitimizes me.

The interesting thing in all of this is, those vets, and others as well, who lash out with such fury and rage, and have no interest in understanding their opponent, basically put forth the same negative energy and obstinance as the white supremacists they claim to denounce. Not that you stand for the same cause, but your reaction is rife with the same stone-walling and refusal to accept and try to understand anyone whose opinion - (or, skin color) - may be different from yours.

Case in point, those who responded to my earlier attempt to tweet out an explanation to the piece and said, “this douchebag’s now attempting to duck and cover. Still a douchebag,” you are the personification of why we are where we are. Vets like Sgt. Cunningham who seek to fight for what we love as opposed to fighting what we hate stand in dire contrast to you.

Your unwillingness to communicate, and your automatic/knee-jerk response of condemnation, rage, and intolerance, is not only a by product of what your life experience must have been to date, but is also most likely a result of the training methods/intensely stressful experiences mentioned above. As Sgt. Desiree Magginnis, another vet, pointed out to me just yesterday: If you want to see the true enemy, just look in the mirror. That goes for all of us. Especially, at this point in our history. We are all a part of the problem and we need to accept it and deal with it, constructively, without hating.

Just a week prior to my piece on Charlottesville, I penned an article addressing the blowback I received from the left regarding a comment I made on Facebook, in which I jokingly stated the dress Hillary wore to the wedding the Clinton’s recently attended resembled that of a shower curtain. I was immediately inundated with cries of sexism, misogyny, loser, asshole, etc. People I’d never met instantly rushed to judge me and pronounced a sentence of Scumbag-for-Life, and went as far as to criticize the women in my family for putting up with such an insensitive prick all these years - simply because I made a joke about her attire.

Keep in mind, this is the Left we’re talking about. Not the usual manic, crazies who look for any excuse to chant “Lock her up!” every chance they get and unilaterally denounce all mainstream media as liberally biased and fake news! There is resistance even among The Resistance. We are guilty of doing the same exact thing we accuse the Right of doing.

Additionally, for whatever reason, the editors at The Huff chose to ignore that piece in which I called those on the Left out for their infantile and hypocritical behavior, and instead, opted to run the piece on the vets. Go figure.

You don’t need to experience what I recently have to see we are absolutely in a civil war. One that replaces muskets and bayonets with keyboards. These constant virtual attacks against one another, and our refusal to talk, and more importantly, listen, are beginning to manifest themselves in so many unfortunate ways. Charlottesville, being just one extreme example. Sgt. Cunningham says all of this comes from a place of fear. I couldn’t agree more. We are not the enemy. Fear, and those in power who seek to propagate it and profit from it, are.

Speaking as a liberal, it’s hard for us on the Left to understand you on the Right. Especially since we think that Live and Let Live crap is a pretty good motto to go by, and especially since it bewilders us to see many of you still supporting a man who’s apparently made it his mission to support/condone racism and separatist beliefs. From the recent pardoning of Arpaio, to the defunding of the largest skinhead rehab group in the country, to the failure to immediately condemn neo nazis.

But, in spite of this mental case, if we’re going to avoid a full-blown, actual civil war, one in which the only winners will be our real enemies, those of us who aren’t certifiable are going to have to start a dialogue. There’s no other way through.

If we continue as we are down this road, we’re doomed. Is this the type of toxic environment we want our kids to inherit? We are out there, on both sides. And, as any vet will tell you, once the communication breaks down, the next logical step is war. So, let’s talk.