Tuesday, April 14, 2009

From Lizette Alvarez To Homeland Security

H/T to Troy at Bouhammer, who has a bit on this and LT Nixon, who has one himself.

I wrote a post in January of 2007 with the title, "I Knew It Was Coming." What I knew was coming was the Vietnam backlash against veterans. While the country "learned its lessons" from Vietnam, one of which being, "Even if you don't support the war, support the troops," there has always been an element that doesn't support the troops. That faction is increasing in boldness. That's why I have objected to the objectification of veterans, sometimes subtly, sometimes not so subtly as in the case of Alvarez. It is a slippery slope that once trod can easily slide into the very same problems that Vietnam veterans have been subjected to.

It's well underway.

More, plus some good comments, after the jump.

It's funny that in the United States, particular problems that are most often manifested among a particular demographic cannot be directly referred to as such. It's just not politically correct. We have a lot of sensitivity to issues that occur mainly among minorities, or among lifestyle groups. We don't wish to offend, and we go to great lengths to avoid stating obvious relationships between cause and effect for the sake of the feelings or sensibilities of a particular group, be it racial or lifestyle oriented. In the beginning of this war, it was not cool to go after veterans or military members, but that has been inexorably changing.

Phase I starts with stories told by reporters like Alvarez, objectifying veterans of this country's wars as either victims or as potentially dangerous near-criminals. The ultimate expression of such objectification has been demonstrated in the publication of an "Intelligence and Analysis Assessment" by the Department of Homeland Security or "Geheimstaats Polizei" dated April 7th, 2009, which labels veterans as potentially dangerous to homeland security. This is Phase II.

(U//FOUO) The possible passage of new restrictions on firearms and the return of military veterans facing significant challenges reintegrating into their communities could lead to the potential emergence of terrorist groups or lone wolf extremists capable of carrying out violent attacks.

Holy freakin' cow. Now there is a government agency, nay; a department, that publishes the words, "the return of military veterans... could lead to the potential emergence of terrorist groups or lone wolf extremists capable of carrying out violent attacks." Lizette Alvarez must be jumping up and down with self-righteous justification.

This Soldier gasps in disbelief, shakes his head and sadly looks towards Washington in utter dismay. I saw it coming, and I've spoken against it. I've called the warning and pointed... and there is no stopping the slide towards a great evil which has now taken hold to the point of poisoning the relationship of my government and my brothers in arms. We are now, "them." We are now that minority. We are the Jews of 1930's Germany. We are McCarthy's Communists. We are the ones who are being moved to the back of the bus and who are losing our seats at the national lunch counter. Our honor is slipping away as we become the new insidious threat.

Our own government has declared us suspect.

(U//FOUO) Returning veterans possess combat skills and experience that are attractive to rightwing extremists. DHS/I&A is concerned that rightwing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to boost their violent capabilities.

Uh-huh. We also possess combat skills and experience that should be attractive to both DHS and law enforcement of all levels. I don't see that noted anywhere. I don't see a recommendation for harnessing the abilities of veterans to somehow be of use, or a recommendation to reach out to veterans to brief them on the existence of such recruiting efforts, if they exist. There does not seem to be any substantial evidence of such recruiting, merely the conjecture that our dangerous abilities and tendencies would be attractive to such groups.

There is the unspoken; veterans may have a tendency to be politically opposed to the current administration. Veterans may have had a tendency to have voted for the other guy. So, without any evidence of a groundswell in returning veterans joining such "rightwing" organizations or practicing or preparing to practice any "rightwing extremism," we are identified as being potential threats. We, who answered the call to defend our country, are now to be carefully watched. We, who have fought in the "War on Terror" are, without any evidence whatsoever, potentially violent terrorists ourselves?

The faction who in the early days of this war found themselves having to mute their cries against the warriors themselves is finding its voice, and with the lack of social backlash began to raise its voice from a low murmur to a conversational tone. That faction does tend to reside on the left end of the spectrum, and the left has taken power in the last election, bringing all causes on the left a new feeling of empowerment. In the first 60 days of the new administration the President of the United States, who insisted that he was stronger on veterans' issues than his opponent, himself brought forth a policy to cause veterans with service-related wounds and injuries to have to pay for medical care for such injuries from their private insurance.

It does not matter that he had to back away from this policy. It does not matter that it became less than politically expedient to continue through to implementation and, for now, the policy had to be abandoned. It matters that it was raised in the first place. It does not matter that a candidate speaks of "sacred trust." It matters what he tries to do once in power. Deeds, not words, are what show the real spirit and the real intent.

Now, under a new Secretary of Homeland Security, there is an "Intelligence and Analysis Assessment" that paints veterans, not as a casual aside but prominently among their main points, as a potential threat to domestic tranquility.

This is not a political blog. This is a military blog. This is an Afghanistan military blog. I try to stay in my lane, but when my brothers and sisters and I are being assaulted, I will not stay silent. This is not just a blog about Afghanistan and the military. It is written by a combat veteran of Afghanistan and a believer that we can make a positive difference in the world with what we do. I believe that we can make ourselves more secure by doing the right things on the opposite side of the world, and that sometimes that means going in harm's way. I believe that when you go in harm's way, sometimes you are harmed, and sometimes you have to harm in return. I believe that is regrettable, but that when it is necessary it should be done with focus, restraint, and with surgical violence at the personal level. I believe that there is a time and a place for such violence and that on our shores is not that time or place. I am finding myself being abandoned by my country in small but growing ways and I don't like it, because I have borne true allegiance to this country and do not deserve, nor do my compatriots, to be treated as a dog who has bitten a child would be.

The President of the United States, during his campaign, spoke of a "sacred trust." He has since made an action that I consider to be in direct contravention of that trust, and now a department of his administration has declared us, veterans, as a group, to be a potential danger. Now is the time for the President to renew his commitment to the sacred trust that he spoke of, because he sets the tone. He sets the tone for his administration and he sets the tone for all of those who feel that growing sense of empowerment to speak against this nation's veterans in derisive or objectifying language.

Being the first president to duck the Medal of Honor recipients on the day of his inauguration is not the way to set the tone. Being the first president to call for wounded veterans to pay for battle-related wounds from their private insurance is not the way to do it, either. Being the president who allows a department of his administration to label veterans as one of the likely suspects, without any evidence, in future domestic terrorism, is not the way to set this tone.

As a candidate, Barack Obama spoke of leadership and its importance. Now is the time for this President to be the President and set the tone for his administration relating to veterans issues. I'm a little worried at this point that this is not the president that the President cares to be.

I hope he proves my concerns to be unfounded. One way to do that would be to ruthlessly go after the unprofessional staff who published a report declaring, without evidence and based on nothing more than conjecture, that veterans are some kind of threat to this nation that we have but our lives on the line for.

I'll wrap this up with a quote from the cover of the report:

Federal efforts to influence domestic public opinion must be conducted in an overt and transparent manner, clearly identifying United States Government sponsorship.

Propaganda needs to be done clearly and in the government's name... isn't that what that means? I notice that the word "responsibly" is not to be found there.


  1. Apologies in advance about the length of the comment.

    Let me just say off the bat that I agree with your overall point about stereotyping veterans as dangerous kooks. Whether it's lazy reporters using simplistic statistics and correlation fallacies because it will make a splashy headline, or Federal law enforcement using simplisic profiles when doing threat assessment. But a few points:

    1. There has been alot of activity in the right wing, and by right wing I mean far right wing like Stormfront and other racist and militia groups, not conservatives who identify as on the right. Particularly in their violent rhetoric towards the President, liberals and all the other boogeymen that keep them up nights. Gun and ammunition stockpiling, recruitment of new members, etc. Federal law enforcement is doing its job by watching these groups and telling local police to keep their eyes open. Acts of Domestic terror by right wing extremists have occured in our lifetime. One of the principals was a vet. This is why I don't like the way many agencies use profiling. It's one tool of many, not destiny. But the President is a black man, and that doesn't make racists very happy. And we have had assasination attempts on previous Presidents. So some prudence on the part of the DHS is legitimate here.

    2. It's highly unlikely that the President or the new DHS Secretary has had the time or the inclination to direct Federal law enforcement to persecute vets. There is no plausible reason to do so. I think that applying Occams Razor to this question would be useful. It's far more likely that this is more of the same lazy thinking that motivated the FBI to infiltrate a bunch of Matronly Quakers who opposed the war a few years back. I don't what the expected to find there, but they did it anyway. Simplistic profiles and muddled thinking is the likely culprit here I would argue.

    3. We need to get beyond this demonizatin of each other. Liberals don't hate veterans. Nor are they motivated to persecute them. Some of them are ignorant blowhars about the military and what's going in Iraq and Afghanistan. They don't have a monopoly on this.

    I would like to point out that if people really believed that the President or this Administration was capable of conducting a politically motivated witch hunt using Federal agencies like the FBI or DHS, then it might have behooved them to listen to their fellow citizens on the left who jumped up and down about the expansion of the power of the Executive Branch in the Patriot Act. The surveillance, arrest, and imprisonment powers given to the previous administration did not magically disappear when the former President left office. I think you will find many people on the left who would gladly join you in an effort to limit those powers and bring them back within the limits with some exceptions that were applied previously. Because if there is an act of Domestic Terror, and right wing groups, no matter how extreme or radical are responsible, everyone to the right of Susan Collins is going to get some of th blame. And the powers the Patriot Act have granted the Executive Branch are so vast and beyond traditional limits, it makes me worry about what legitimate political actors and partistans on the right will endure. And that won't be becaue Obama is a hippie liberal Socialist (I know you're not saying this, but it gets floated about in the military blogsphere a bit too much). It will be because Federal Law enforcement and the Intelligence apparatus have been granted too much power and tend to overeact in a crisis.

    My point I guess is that this tendencey to steretype vets is a symptom of a larger problem that we can mitigate the risks of by avoiding the usual left/right stuff and recognizing we all have a stake in protecting the rights and reputations of vets and the latte sipping hippies both.

  2. This is an interesting post, but I think somewhat off base. It is no more reasonable to portray veterans as all goodness and light as it would be to portray vets generally as scary scary scary (which the DHS report does not). That militia activity is on the rise is clear, that militias like to recruit from susceptible members of the military is well documented. “FBI reporting indicates extremist leaders have historically favored recruiting active and former military personnel for their knowledge of firearms, explosives, and tactical skills and their access to weapons and intelligence in preparation for an anticipated war against the federal government, Jews, and people of color.”Tom Ricks had a good piece about a year ago on cultural trends in the military that actually speaks precisely to this statement that you made above: "I've called the warning and pointed... and there is no stopping the slide towards a great evil which has now taken hold to the point of poisoning the relationship of my government and my brothers in arms. We are now, "them."". Ricks opens with: U.S. military personnel of all ranks are feeling increasingly alienated from their own country, and are becoming both more conservative and more politically active than ever before. The article included the following:

    These isolating trends are occurring amid broader cultural changes in the military -- notably the politicization of the officer corps. Of course, military culture has always had a conservative streak, just as journalism has always had an element of anti-authoritarianism. I suspect, however, that today's officers are both more conservative and more politically active than their predecessors.

    Admittedly, the evidence is hazy and the data are skimpy -- in part because "conservative" is almost impossible to define. Nonetheless, the few indications available today are strikingly at odds with the conclusions Janowitz reached. Janowitz found that many officers continued to avoid open party preferences, but also detected a trend toward more liberals among military officers. He found the military becoming more representative of society, with a long-term upward trend in the number of officers "willing to deviate from traditional conservative identification." And he detected a correlation between higher ranks and greater intensity of conservative attitudes.

    Today the available evidence indicates that all these trends have reversed. The military appears to be becoming politically less representative of society, with a long-term downward trend in the number of officers willing to identify themselves as liberals. Open identification with the Republican Party is becoming the norm. And the few remaining liberals in uniform tend to be colonels and generals, perhaps because they began their careers in the draft-era military. The junior officer corps, apart from its female and minority members, appears to be overwhelmingly hard-right Republican and largely comfortable with the views of Rush Limbaugh. Air Force Colonel Charles Dunlap observed in a recent essay published by the Air Force Academy, "Many officers privately expressed delight that" as a result of the controversy over gays in the military, the Reserve Officers Training Corps program is producing "fewer officers from the more liberal campuses to challenge [the Air Force officers'] increasingly right-wing philosophy."

    A variety of recent formal and informal surveys point toward those conclusions. Midshipmen at Annapolis, who in 1974 were similar in their politics to their peers at civilian colleges, are now twice as likely as other students to consider themselves conservative, according to an unpublished internal Navy survey. "The shift to the right has been rather remarkable, even while there has been an infusion of rather more liberal women and minorities," one of the study's conductors concluded.

  3. It's interesting that you have invoked a well argued response from Hebisner and piece of biased blather from WVNG who writes: " It is no more reasonable to portray veterans as all goodness and light as it would be to portray vets generally as scary scary scary (which the DHS report does not)."

    It doesn't WVNG? Have you read it? Because the report DOES paint veterans with the Scary brush and Blue has every right to be concerned.

    I read your FBI clipping and it reports that a whopping 203 military vets or THOSE WHO CLAIM TO BE have been recruited. (Over what time frame it doesn't say.) If you can't at least try to be impartial why don't you just play in your own back yard.

  4. From the Washington Times today: "The White House has distanced itself from the analysis. When asked for comment on its contents, White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said, "The President is focused not on politics but rather taking the steps necessary to protect all Americans from the threat of violence and terrorism regardless of its origins. He also believes those who serve represent the best of this country, and he will continue to ensure that our veterans receive the respect and benefits they have earned."


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