Are today’s veterans being “dissed” on campus?

An article on the online version of Stars and Stripes brought back some memories recently. The staff-written story on the “independent” Department of Defense-run newspaper told of veterans incurring anti-military attitudes on college campuses. Such a piece sparks an interest in me because I have long followed veterans issues and the fact that I am a veteran who is a college graduate in part due to the GI Bill.

First though, a little about the quotation marks surrounding the word “independent.” Stars and Stripes first published in 1861 when a Union regiment found an abandoned newspaper office in Missouri and gave today’s paper its name.

Stripes became well-known during the first and second world wars among soldiers overseas, featuring journalists who are now considered among the greatest talents of the 20th century. Among them, the great sports writer Grantland Rice and noted drama critic Alexander Woollcott from the WWI era. The World War II staff included Andy Rooney and cartoonist Bill Mauldin of “Willie and Joe” fame.

For all the restrictions on journalists through wars during the last 90 years Stars and Stripes has published, I have to say it is a very good newspaper. The civilian writers certainly have unique office politics as well.

A reporter I knew who covered military issues for a metro-sized Texas paper went to work for Stripes. She called it the “world’s largest PR firm,” or words to that effect. Nonetheless, she could for the most part experience and write about what any other battlefield journalist could. Combat news coverage has never been perfect even though the best practitioners of journalism have given it hell over time.

Okay, perhaps a little more than you might want to know about Stars and Stripes, but I am just trying to give the story a little context. This isn’t The New York Times, but Stripes also isn’t MSNBC or Fox News. The writer in the linked story gives only limited anecdotal evidence that today’s veterans are being “dissed” on campus and that professors are overtly antagonistic toward ex-military. That isn’t to say that such feelings do not get displayed on college campuses today, especially given the divided religious and political viewpoints in our society which are egged on by talking-heads in media.

Given, 1980 — when I matriculated — on an East Texas college campus with a large portion of its student body hailing from Houston and Dallas suburbs is different from 2013 at a school such as UC-Berkeley. But one factor we had in common is age. We were young then. These vets, who may have experiences that have made the grow up way too fast, nevertheless are for the most part also young men and women.

Now I believed what many told me about former military folks who attended college. That was, they were more serious about studies and generally more responsible. That is true. I worked full time as a firefighter during most of that time as well. As I have said before, the monthly GI Bill payment was mostly gravy. But looking back, I mistook a quasi-cosmopolitan attitude from my service and world travels for wisdom. And though I started school at 25, I quickly felt at ease with the majority of those 18-to-21-year-olds who made up most of the student body.

I remembering engaging with certain professors with whom I disagreed. I found for the most part that they dug it. I actually ended up more liberal when I left the military than when I enlisted. Thus, the “left-leaning” professors, which absolutely were in a minority where I went to college, were all right by me. I also enjoyed being engaged and made to think as well as learning so very much that I didn’t know, not that it has always stuck!

Members of the military are treated better nowadays by the public than anytime I can remember. Though the extent of hostility toward military personnel during the Vietnam War has been questioned, those in uniform during that entire Vietnam Era could easily encounter prejudice. Such hostility wasn’t just from long-haired “peaceniks” either. I once talked to several Vietnam vets who avoided service organizations such as the VFW or American Legion toward the end of the war because the majority World War II membership saw that day’s serviceman as a “loser.”

Former Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey Jr., said in the Stars and Stripes article that veterans attending college should be open to others and walk away from scholars whose minds you will not change. I certainly agree with the first part of that. But I think the vets need to engage those they do not agree with as well, whether professor or student. It contributes to a richer learning atmosphere which is just as much a major portion of college as books and lectures. All of this also doesn’t have to happen in a classroom. Who knows how many theories I discussed around a keg or in the bar.

I can’t help but have kind of mixed feelings on the case made by the news article. Yes, there are a great number of people against the war in Afghanistan and our adventure into Iraq. But the outward show of support military people get today makes it difficult to believe, minus greater evidence, that campus animosity toward veterans is as rampant as the story suggests.

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