(Monument to Non-Violence, Malmo, Sweden, July, 2004)I’ve been busy, busy, keeping up with my online teaching, but I have to take time out to comment on a story that caught my eye in yesterday’s Seattle Times.
On, Tuesday, November 3, Lake Stevens, WA, police shot and killed an armed Iraq war veteran who allegedly “forced his way into a home where his wife and three children were staying with friends.”
The article identified the veteran as John LaBossiere, a former Marine who had joined the National Guard upon his discharge from the Corps. The Marine Corps had sent him to Iraq twice. The National Guard sent him over for a third tour. He had just returned to the States in August, and according to his father, he returned an “angry man” who felt he had to be armed at all times. According to the article, one handgun was found near his body and "another on his body.”
The circumstances surrounding the actual shooting were not reported. As always happens in such cases, the officers involved are on paid leave pending an investigation. I have no idea what LaBossiere intended or whether police could have resolved the situation without killing him. But what I do know concerns me on two levels.
First, I could join Shakespeare’s Hamlet in proclaiming “O my prophetic soul!” For some time now, I’ve been worrying out loud and in print about the toll the operational tempo is taking on our small volunteer force. But some Horatio would be justified in reminding my naïve self that “there needs no ghost come from the grave to tell us” that we can expect more tragic scenes involving Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans to play themselves out in the years to come. Would that it were not so—and the overwhelming majority of today’s veterans will never be a danger to themselves or others. But it’s difficult for all combat veterans to snap back to normalcy.
Second, I am concerned about the effect stories about troubled veterans have on the popular mind. I remember how Vietnam veterans were stereotyped as hair-trigger, dangerously deranged losers liable to erupt into violence at any moment. That was the myth out of which Rambo was made. And let’s be honest here: most of us who went to Vietnam hadn’t been through anything compared to the veterans of our current wars , many of whom have been sent into harm’s way three or more times.
So take one of these young soldiers or Marines who has already witnessed too much to make a smooth transition back to the land of shopping-mall warriors, and then let him know that you’re wary of him, and what is the likely result? It’s called a self-fulfilling prophecy. Your suspicion might just push him over the edge, turning him into the sort of veteran you fear.
A bit of bad Roosevelt comes to mind: One of the things our returning veterans have to fear, ironically, is fear itself. --EFP