After we published “Haters Want to Hate”, we felt that we didn’t go far enough debunking a crucial part of the Haters phenomenon, the “Have you been there?” argument. It’s probably best, and most charismatically, expressed by Jack Nicholson’s character Colonel Jessup in his closing monologue in A Few Good Men:
“Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinburg?...I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way, Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand post.”
Lest you think this is just a stock movie villain sentiment, ViolentJ expressed the idea at his website, thefreepatriots.com, “By the way, how do you know what most Afghan people think of us, have you been there, have you walked Kabul in your burka taking a survey? Nope... watching too much CNN right? So sit down shut up and LISTEN to those who HAVE been there!” Kyle expressed it in our series on Lone Survivor, “if you have ever stepped one foot on a battlefield, then you have half a right to comment on this subject. if not, shut your mouth...” [sic]
And from a more respectable source, Bouhammer wrote, in response to “traitor” Julian Assange and Wikileaks’ first video release of the helicopter shooting in Iraq, “I mean if they hate the US and its military that much, I would be glad to take all the idiots that work at wikileaks to Afghanistan so they can do the fighting. I know a great place to drop them that will guarantee they will see some action and they can fight to their death right there. In fact, I bet they can video that too. I bet the Taliban would even video some of it for them as they cut off the heads of the wikileaks people. Not sure how they will ‘leak’ it since they would all be dead already.”
The thrust of the “Have you been there?” argument is that citizens are sheep who should thank the sheepdog for his protection, and never questions his methods.
So here’s our rather obvious point: you don’t have to have “been there” to comment on military matters. It may help, it may provide expertise and perspective, but in a democracy, any citizen has the right to comment on what America’s military does in our country’s name.
Half of the On Violence writing team (two thirds if you count Matty P), has never deployed to any country. So in case we receive another commenter asking us to “shut the hell up” unless we have “been there”, we want to present the flaws with that specific argument so we can simply ignore them in the future.
Point 1: This argument silences critics, not the uninformed. Even if we could grant that people who have never deployed “don’t get it”, the haters who use this argument never silence conservative commentators who agree with them. Sarah Palin, for just one example, constantly opines on the situation in Afghanistan. Same with Newt Gingrich. They haven’t “been there”, so why don’t the haters tell them to “shut their mouths and pick up a gun”? Because they are on the same side.
An example: The head of the Center for Military Readiness, Elaine Donelly has never deployed, but conservatives who support DADT never tell her to “shut her mouth”. It doesn’t matter if she’s deployed or served or not, it matters what evidence she uses to support her position. Sometimes the best evidence is personal experience; sometimes it’s academic research. The “have you been there?” argument silences dissent and criticism, instead of promoting an actual debate over the policies.
Point 2: Some of the best thinkers “haven’t been there”. I absolutely love the historian John Keegan, but he has never “been there”. (Keegan had a medical condition that specifically kept him out of the service.) But his books get it. He knows more than most soldiers will ever forget. And, ironically, conservative soldiers quote Keegan frequently, despite his never having been there.
Point 3: Our world would be a different place if you had to have “been there” to comment. We mentioned this last time, but we’ll say it again: obviously, you can comment on issues without first hand experience, we do it all the time (especially on Monday mornings in the fall). The military shouldn’t get a special pass.
Point 4: Finally, we live in a democracy. Period. One of the more perplexing developments of the last decade has been the cognitive dissonance of/by soldiers who fight to defend freedom, but hate the freedoms they defend. These soldiers hate funeral protesters (freedom of speech), Mosques in America (freedom of religion), liberals (suffrage), the current President (Article II), privacy (unlawful search and seizure), Speaker Pelosi (Article I) and any criticism of the military (freedom of speech again).
In a democracy citizens have the right, nee the responsibility, to comment on the actions of the government. Everyone in our country has the right to comment on the actions taken in their name--whether by soldiers, police or our politicians, whether they have served in uniform or not.