Monday, June 11, 2007

The Vet's University Experience

You know, more often than not, I write these blogs out of a sense of duty. That is to say that I write them because I feel I have to write them. Lately, it has become rare that I write about an issue that is being written simply out of my own desire. It is not often that a time comes when an issue so compels me that I feel the urge to simply spew forth words…

Tonight’s blog is one of those peculiar, emotionally charged examples.

I have been witness to two illustrations today that relate to the same phenomenon. Without letting the subject of this blog totally “out of the bag” yet, allow me to give you some source material to whet your appetites. The following are links to outside sources:

Samuel Huntington's The Hispanic Challenge (PDF)

CNN.COM: Suicide Risk Double Among Male U.S. Veterans

The Huntington article is from the journal Foreign Policy. It is a well-cited work and quite the source of controversy. Huntington, for all his faults, is Yale AND Harvard educated. He is a noted political scientist and, whether found agreeable or otherwise, his work drives entire movements within the fields of sociology and political science.

The second link is to an article that was presented today on CNN’s website. The article cites research completed that may show a correlation between white, college-educated military veterans and the acts of suicide. While the researchers in the article, themselves, claim that their arguments are inconclusive at best, the suggestion that is made is warrant enough for me to discuss what I currently have residing in my mind.

The Huntington text is noteworthy because it was presented in one of my university classes today. This class is a required course for my particular International Studies major here at the University of South Florida. The professor of this class has been hereunto exceptional. For lack of a better term, I have found minute portions of his lectures to be “quirky.” However, I found nothing too alarming. Today’s class may have changed that. The format in which the Huntington text was presented was, for me, appalling.

Before we get to today’s event, though, let me state my thesis. I suggest that the research completed on the CNN link is correct. I believe that it is highly probable that veterans commit suicide at a higher percentage rate then non-military civilians. I am going to go farther, however, and suggest that this high rate of suicide is caused by university’s continued teaching of material in manners that is so completely out of touch and alien to the military-hardened individual. Today’s class was exactly an example of one that could cause a veteran to go crazy.

This particular Huntington text is highly controversial. It’s very title, The Hispanic Challenge, invokes thoughts of racism. However, the points that the author delivers are not only grounded in empirical fact, but they are made with the intention of making a populace aware of a problem that, in Huntington’s eyes, is very real and very dangerous. And for many of us that have served in the military, the ideal of America is something outside of what the everyday citizen understands. And, for this reason among others, the Huntington text proves very much noteworthy.

So, with all this being said, I was very excited to see on my syllabus that the professor had intended on sharing this text with the class today. And he did. What occurred afterwards was disturbing. He allowed the class to critique the text in oral discussion. This is something that the professor had yet to do after citing any previous material. Of course, the class response was as expected: Huntington is wrong, Huntington is a bigot, the current argument of Huntington’s is the same argument that was made many times in the past concerning previous waves of immigration, etc. Basically, the professor allowed the class to conduct a chorus of material-bashing.

All things being equal, I want to again clear the professor of extended wrong-doing. He tried to stay outside of the discussion and present dissenting opinions. However, I do feel that the response he elicited from the class was premeditated. He knew what the students would say and they said it; Huntington is bad. And, worse, students failed to critically analyze the subject because it was so much easier to suggest that such an extreme opinion was simply a bigoted one and a wrong one.

However, I am not on my soapbox tonight to suggest solely the culpability of my professor. I am here, instead, to show the implications that such methods of teaching can have on the returning soldier. Today’s class, for me, was tough. While I should have spoken up and pointed out the shortsighted nature of my class peers in not considering Huntington’s opinion, I chose not to. I can confidently assume that I would have been outnumbered 49 to 1 in my concern for giving the noted political scientist his due. And, while I am not easily swayed from a rhetorical battle, I knew that this was one that would fall on deaf ears.

However, we can’t assume that every returning soldier has the same grip on life’s dirty realities as I do. As egotistical as that sounds, I have to be honest: there are young men, returning from service, who are entering universities intent on turning the entire world-view that they rely on upside down. My honesty outweighs my humility; I suggest that I can handle a situation such as today's better than many of my military counterparts. And I am completely sympathetic, however, to the pain that they are suffering.

The solder’s world is one of necessary moral and values. The ideal of America, as I referred to above, may be abstract but it is something that the soldier relies on daily as motivation to continue grueling through tasks that the average citizen would fail to complete. This is especially true for those of us that have been asked to risk our lives in this cause’s defense. If the soldier’s perspective of America is one that may be considered by others to be shaded by bigotry and racist overtones, then so be it. Soldiers do not discriminate against blacks, whites, or otherwise. Soldiers serve next to, and fight for, their brothers of all races. However, the concept of America is all the soldier has to rely on. And this concept of America is exactly what Huntington perceives as being under attack. To see such an argument so intensely harassed could surely be traumatizing for many a soldier.

Now, all of this was solely my experience. My experience in Tampa, Florida. My experience in a university that has been less “liberal” in its expressions then I have expected. I can only imagine the university experience being had by veterans in the Boulder, Colorado’s or the Ann Arbor, Michigan’s of our country. If my assumptions are correct about the experiences being had in those areas, then I can see how the findings of the CNN.COM report could easily prove true.

That’s it for tonight. Thank you.

1 comment:

Old NFO said...

Steve, excellent post I wonder though on the CNN article (which was discussed around the coffee pot at work today), where they say, "At biggest risk were veterans who were white, those who had gone to college and those with activity limitations, ..." I wonder what portion of the "control" group also had activity limitations????

Veterans are statistically more likely to have some form of limitations, from small (loss of hearing) to major (loss of limbs) than the average population, so I wonder if there is an artificial skew in the data set?

As a career Navy guy with 22 years active duty, I have known folks who had different types of injuries over the years, but I only know of 1 suicide, and that was actually over the divorce.

I found your other article to be interesting in that I agree with your take, rather than your peers...