Kathleen Belew is a Doctoral Candidate at Yale, and she recently wrote a scathing Op-Ed in the New York Times. Entitled “Veterans and White Supremacy,” the article seems to indict the military as a training ground for white supremacist groups. She cites the recent case of Frazier Glen Miller, who shot and killed three people in Overland Park, Kansas on Sunday. She goes on to state that violence among veterans is rare, but the title of her post seems to point the opposite direction.
In fact, Miller was discharged from the Army in 1979 for distributing racist literature. Ms. Belew seems to indict the military for training white supremacists—when the real issue is in fact the opposite: white supremacist groups actively send members into the military in order to gather information and tactics that they can use for their own purposes. In fact, Kathleen reached the same conclusion through her research, that “Mr. Miller received large sums of money from The Order, a white power group in the Pacific Northwest, to buy land and weapons to put his followers through paramilitary training. Mr. Miller’s group paid $50,000 for weapons and matériel stolen from the armory at Fort Bragg, N.C., including anti-tank rockets, mines and plastic explosives. He targeted active-duty troops for recruitment and hired them to conduct training exercises.”
Miller was entirely at fault, and yet your title seems to say that all veterans are a stone’s throw away from the being the next Timothy McVeigh or Frazier Glen Miller. A bold move, but because web traffic is web traffic, and the more insensitive and inflammatory your titles are, the more hits you’re going to get.
Of course veterans are incensed, and we should be. We are largely looked down upon as a broken portion of the population. Just yesterday I attended a Veterans Resource Fair at the University of Colorado at Denver, and the Colorado Workforce representative I spoke to about translating military service into a civilian job had this to say: “And if you have PTSD, we wouldn’t, like, put you in a noisy job.” As if every veteran has post-traumatic stress. The last time I checked, roughly 20% of veterans suffer from some kind of combat stress reaction. Is that enough to approach every veteran like they are somehow wounded, like a ticking time bomb, just waiting for a white supremacy group to recruit them so they can shoot and kill again? Like we need some sort of special treatment because we’re somehow more sensitive to loud noises?
It’s this kind of attitude that diminishes the service of our veterans community. By and large, veterans build more small businesses than their civilian counterparts, and have a much higher success rate than other startups. Additionally, veterans are incarcerated at less than half the rate of civilians, according the the Bureau of Justice Statistics. But just as the sheep fear the sheepdog when the wolf is not around, so do many people who don’t understand the nature of military service.
Why, Kathleen, are you painting veterans as so dangerous? Wouldn’t it be more accurate to title your Op-Ed Civilians and White Supremacy? More civilians are white supremacists than veterans. But that’s not inflammatory enough to send traffic to your piece. Veterans in general tend to take on more leadership roles, whether that’s within the context of a business, school, or even a white supremacist group. The real issue here is that we as a culture have a long way to go with racism, bigotry, and ignorance in this country. Blaming veterans is NOT helping.
It’s an uncomfortable truth in this world that violence solves problems. That makes no one as uncomfortable as those who have elected by virtue of their humanity and by solemn oath to conduct violence on your behalf. Most veterans I served in combat with have returned home to a richer view of life, of humanity, and of what service means. They have started businesses, non-profit organizations, helped flood victims, become police officers, they are the people that keep this country running, and they are what put a smile on my face every morning. Knowing that even in times of strife, there is a class of people willing to get things done.
I visited Kathleen’s bio on Northwestern University’s website. Her book, under contract with the university press, is titled Bring the War Home: Vigilantism, Race, and Violence from Vietnam to Oklahoma City. I hope it doesn’t get nearly the amount of attention of your Op-Ed.