Most Soldiers Return From War Just Fine

Commentator Ken Harbaugh makes the case that not all soldiers coming back from the war are messed up physically or emotionally. He argues that most soldiers who come back from the war lead incredibly rich, productive lives.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.


Commentator Ken Harbaugh served as Navy pilot for nine years and deployed a number of times to the Middle East. He's unhappy with the way movies and media portray troops returning from war. And he'd like us to keep a few things in mind.

Mr. KEN HARBAUGH (Former U.S. Navy Pilot): America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are the most filmed conflicts in history. Already, a flood of documentaries and movies have come out purporting to show what is really happening. On balance, this is a good thing. For a democracy like ours to make the best decisions about war, we must be informed. I worry, though, that the veterans' experience is being portrayed in a way that could hurt for years to come. Most Americans have not seen combat, much less in Iraq of Afghanistan.

The prevailing image of today's veteran is gotten through the media, through movies and pictures that often dwell on the trauma of war, the injury it does to the body and the psyche. This focus on the damaged veteran is, for the most part, well intentioned. As a nation, we have no higher moral duty, none, than caring for those we send to do our fighting. Yet, this picture of the veteran scarred by war is incomplete and often unfair. Some do return physically and emotionally shattered.

But the vast majority of my former military friends are not only proud of having served, but feel that it made them stronger. This is not a defense of war or the wisdom of our current policies. Still, the act of serving your country alongside other Americans you would give your life for, I believe, changes a person for the better. After Vietnam, the media created an image of returning vets as crazed sociopaths unable to readjust to civilian life. Movies like "Deer Hunter" and "Rambo" were standard fair, depicting vets as damaged goods. We're starting to see the same myth emerge today with movies like "Ground Truth" and "In the Valley of Elah."

I applaud anyone who shines light on the plight of those veterans traumatized by war. Their story is important. Americans need to hear it. But pretending that this is every veteran's experience is wrong. The truth is that many vets adapt extremely well to life after the military. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show vets today are more likely to be employed than their non-veteran counterparts. According to the Justice Department, they're less likely to be imprisoned. And in a survey commissioned by the VA, 91 percent of Vietnam veterans who had seen combat said they were glad they had served their country.

Our veterans are an asset, not a liability. This applies even to those wounded. Many I've talked to would rejoin their units in a heartbeat if they could. That isn't about the justness of our foreign policy. It's about bravery. It's about love. The overwhelming majority of veterans today are proud to have worn the uniform. I suppose we'll just have to wait for a movie about that.

(Soundbite of music)

BLOCK: Commentator Ken Harbaugh attends Yale Law School and serves as executive director of a non-profit group, The Mission Continues. It helps returning wounded veterans volunteer in their communities.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.