Being in conflict changes people, no matter what side you are on.
Here, people in the military share how being in service changed their political views.
1. “It really opened my eyes to how small minded we can be.”
I became more liberal, I think. The bleak realities I saw as a corpsman in the Navy changed me from a jingoist know-nothing jerk into someone much more inclined to think and reason. I went in expecting to be shot at by Muslims, just like many people did so soon after 9/11. What I got instead was respectful people coming from miles around to give us food and drink, in the middle of nowhere, to pay for medical care because they didn’t have money, or doctors. People letting us into their homes and offering us food. No reason, no spite.
I was led to believe that all of these people were my enemies before I joined, only to realize that none of them were. It really opened my eyes to how small minded we can be, especially when we don’t know any better.
2. You’re playing a part in someone else’s narrative.
My experience has made me very cynical and skeptical of my government and politics. You learn that everything is all about appearances and just how much you can sweep under a rug.
I used to be all about being on whatever side the president and politicians were on, like “I’m your tool, so use me” but once you learn just how expendable you are, your views on self worth drop a little and you resent the higher ups who have no problem extending your tour or cutting your leave short.
Once you realize it’s just a dog and pony show, you start to question just what is fact and what is fiction.
3. Sometimes, it takes leaving your country to realize all that is wrong with it.
It was like becoming a Priest and realizing God wasn’t real. All of the propaganda and mythos that I grew up with as a red blooded American went out the window to be replaced by cold, hard political reality. There’s nothing innately superior about America. We’re only as good or as bad as we choose to be, and frequently we choose to be no better than the worst of our enemies. That’s not to say that the American values that we espouse: liberty, universal human rights, justice, etc, aren’t worthwhile ideals, only that the realities are much more pragmatic and ugly.
4. “Most of the time it’s a thinly veiled money making scheme.”
I actually give a crap now. I don’t if it was because I was young and dumb when I joined but now I’m really involved.
Also, being introduced to different cultures helps gain perspective. But, I think the most influential aspect of my military experience is the idea of giving everything I have for the guy next me. It is easier to do in the military because the is a bond that isn’t found out in the public, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t shaped my political views. I personally don’t like asking for help but I am more than willing to offer what I have for the next guy. Also, I think I have a clear picture of just how much crap the public is fed to drum up support. What most people think we are fighting and dying for is not what is really going on. So now I’m way more cautious of people banging the war drum. Most of the time it’s a thinly veiled money making scheme and I’m just not going to support young Americans dying so a few people get richer.
5. Now, that’s the truth.
In the military, you’re all on equal footing. So it makes complete sense that people who fail have only themselves to blame and you wouldn’t want to give them handouts.
But the world outside the military isn’t like that (story continued on the next page…).
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Being poor is expensive, and a lot has been written on the phenomenon.
Picture a single screw-up: misreading a street sign and having your car towed. Ideally, you wouldn’t make that mistake, but no one is perfect. If you’re middle class, you pay the couple hundred in impound fees and grumble about it and call yourself an idiot and maybe you eat ramen for a month or delay getting a new TV. If you’re poor, you’re screwed. You don’t have a couple hundred to pay the fees. Your car is stuck in the lot. Without your car, you have to spend hours on public transit to get to work, which means less time working at other part-time jobs. And public transit costs money. You might even lose your job if the public transit near you is unreliable or nonexistent. Now you can’t pay the rent. One simple screw-up that anyone could make, that a person with money would grumble about but survive, and now you’re homeless. And that’s just one of the many simple fuck-ups that can put you on the street. Or even freak accidents – if you break your arm, you’re also screwed.
In the military, successes and screw-ups have the same consequences for everyone (Ability to play politics aside.) But that’s not true outside the military. Some people who end up needing assistance aren’t jerks. They just started out in crappy circumstances and things only got worse.
6. We’re all just people.
Working along side Arabic Muslims made me realize how much alike we all actually are.
After my second deployment to the Arabian peninsula, I changed quite a bit. I became far more understanding and empathetic. I began to realize that people are the same, and that the only difference is their environment they’ve been put in. This caused me to also shift from leaning more libertarian to moderate-liberal.
7. Some specifics on how exactly politic opinions can change.
Most veterans I know are against gun control, to various extents. I know some who want access with no regulation. I know some who think the government wants to strip their guns away entirely. My opinion is that Americans have a right to own a firearm, but those who do should be trained (as a requirement), and we should restrict access to those with criminal backgrounds and certain mental illnesses. I’d also like to see guns themselves become safer to prevent accidental deaths, especially among children.
I have the unpopular opinion of cutting defence spending. We have the most powerful military in the world, and our defence budget HEAVILY outweighs every other countries’. I’d add to this that although we should be somewhat involved in world affairs, we should adopt a role similar to European countries, and not be so heavy-handed.
I have a much more humanitarian outlook on crises and conflicts around the world. I intentionally keep my eyes wide open because my deployments have shown me that there is some shit that people in first world nations don’t want to see.
I think cops should wear body cams, which (in my experience) is not a popular viewpoint among vets.
8. “It’s honestly a right of passage.”
Conscript from the Serbian military.
You meet all different sorts of people. Those you thought never existed.
You learn to appreciate going to bed at 22:00, and sleeping in until 5:00. You learn almost nothing, get belittled, berated, and abused. And you walk out of there knowing who you are. It’s honestly a right of passage.
I saw combat too, though very limited skirmishes. Didn’t change my outlook much, just reinforced that war here is never more than a few steps away.
9. Inexperience can affect your political affiliations.
I was a Marine, did two combat deployments to Afghanistan, and I’m currently working on my bachelor’s degree at a state university. Being in the military certainly influenced me an impressionable teenager/young adult to think more conservatively. It’s a culture, and culture can wildly influence anyone’s views. Not only that, but job security and the funding for your job are positively influenced by Republicans.
Still, I consider myself a liberal. Even my “conservative” viewpoints are shared by both parties, such as gun control and veteran resources.
10. “If there’s one thing the navy has done for me, it’s killed my patriotism, and my faith in this country’s government.”
I’ve never seen so much waste as I have in the navy ballistic missile submarine program. I feel like our mission is just to pass inspections. The amount of effort, man-hours and money that gets sunk into these stupid boats with no real net benefit to the American people is disgusting. We stayed out to sea another two weeks at the end of a deployment one time so that… (story continued on the next page…).
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We stayed out to sea another two weeks at the end of a deployment one time so that ROTC kids could come ride the submarine. They made them pizza and burgers in the galley and made it seem like submarines were this great submersible party. We had already been out to sea for 5 months at that point, without pulling in to any ports, and we were supposed to have come home 3 weeks prior to this.
One time we were supposed to go into dry dock, so we unloaded all the torpedoes, then got told we needed to go underway right now for some undisclosed reason. So we loaded them again, shifted berths to the other side of the pier, and started starting up the reactor, only to get another message saying we’re no longer going underway and now we’re behind schedule for the dry dock. So we shifted back to the previous side of the pier, unloaded the torpedoes that we just reloaded and then prepped the boat for the dry dock. All this resulted in a large portion of the crew being at work and awake for about 36 hrs for NO REASON. When I got home, my wife said, “It’s almost like they have no idea what they are doing.” It’s almost like that, isn’t it? I have more stories like that than I care to write down here. If there’s one thing the navy has done for me, it’s killed my patriotism, and my faith in this country’s government. I’m going to Europe when I get out next year, and I might stay there.
11. Hard to be good at a job you’ve never done.
My views haven’t changed but I do now understand why the politicians in the UK can make such horrendous decisions for our armed forces, the majority of politicians have never done the job.
12. Gives you a different perspective of the organizations around you.
I definitely no longer support anything that involves the UN after seeing first hand how corrupt and messed up that organization is.
13. Lots of conflicting views.
Hasn’t changed much. But it certainly has given me a lot more insight into how the world works vs. how people think it works.
I’m a lot more aware of global commerce and just how interconnected economies are. Also, most people just want to be left alone to do their thing.
I’m more fascinated with geography and the sheer size of our planet than before – I’m much more conscious of the environment.
I’m extremely jaded about Jingoism and Chickenhawks trying to whip out the war drums for every perceived infraction.
Conversely, I’m probably the first person to suggest and defend the use of violence/force as a means of conflict resolution.
Weird myself out on that one.
I was fairly “liberal” going in, and remain fairly liberal afterward. I’m more informed about other political ideologies – having picked many a brain – but haven’t moved much in my personal stances.
14. Learn and let live.
Was a staunch Republican when I joined. Shifted to more of a Libertarian view once I saw a lot of inefficiency and general waste. A little more socially liberal now while fiscally conservative.
15. We spend so much on breaking it down, we forget to build it back up.
I was raised in a conservative household, but my time in the U.S. military has me leaning much more to the left now. This is primarily because we are absolutely incredible at… (story continued on the next page…).
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This is primarily because we are absolutely incredible at blowing crap up, but we rank somewhere around North Korea in our ability to put anything back together.
As a culture we are so quick to beat the war drum, but no one ever wants to devote any energy or money to things after a conflict has been won, or at least subdued. “Bomb them back to the stone age!” is often heard on the front end of a conflict, but “Build them enough infrastructure for the new fledgling government to survive, and become self sustaining.” is never heard afterward. We have no problem dropping billions upon billions of dollars of bombs using billions upon billions of dollars of aircraft, and trillions of dollars of military infrastructure, but we do not want to spend a few hundred million to improve the lives of the people that are directly affected by the conflict.
Do not misunderstand me… I am no bleeding heart. I still believe that it is better to teach a man to fish than to give him a single meal of fish. As a culture we just do not want to do either of those things, and this is a major reason why our leadership on the global scale has never been as strong as it should be.
16. War is a business. And “it’s disgusting”.
I tell young people to find something else and not join the armed forces, unless they really just have no other options in life. We’re not fighting for freedom, we’re securing oil and other resources so that corporations can make money off said resources. And defence contractors get richer as well by harvesting no-bid contracts and doing shoddy work.
There is so much money that has disappeared in the middle east it’s not funny, and the Pentagon cannot even begin to account for billions of dollars that has flowed into that black hole. And a lot of guys and gals have lost their arms, legs, and lives so that a few people could become even more fabulously wealthy.
17. “I no longer think we’re the good guys fighting a just and right war.”
I was an F16 crew chief. In Afghanistan it was my job to play my part in putting the jet up in the air and helping it drop bombs on people/things.
I remember one weekend the pilots wanted us all to come into this room where we watched the video from the jet’s sniper pod as it dropped bombs on people/things.
I remember being in this room and watching these bombs blow the living fuck out of people/things and realizing that a lot of those people are kids ( <20 years old). This was 2010 so 9 years after 9/11.
If you read interviews with Marines who were out and about talking to locals and finding the Taliban, you learned that many, many of Afghanistan’s residents/tribal people had no idea what 9/11 was. They just knew some superpower country was showing up and bombing them. They knew that sometimes these bombs/drones missed their target and wipe out an entire wedding party.
A lot of these ‘fighters’ shooting american troops were defending their country.
Anyway I’m in this room watching this video and everyone around me is just cheering as the bombs go off and at that moment I felt so, so out of place. Like, why the heck are you cheering? These guys didn’t fucking do 9/11. Not one of these guys flew the plane or went to your house and shot your dog. We’re here in their country blowing them up and just making more ‘terrorists’ and fighters as we kill off children’s parents/siblings who cycle right back into the mix as they grow up hating us and joining the Taliban/ISIS/whatever.
So yea, my views changed a bit. I no longer think we’re the good guys fighting a just and right war. I think 9/11 was a very bad thing and sometimes very bad things happen and the appropriate response is to prevent it from happening again and maybe not bombing anyone/everything that might have been associated (but might not have been) with the people who actually did the crime.
18. Blindly supporting a cause you don’t fully understand.
Navy Vet. Joined when I was 18 because I drank the post 9/11 cool aid – I though joining the military would make a difference. I now believe the military exits to keep certain people rich – and is a disgusting organization that literally manipulates people’s good intentions in order to make them tools of destruction. I hate when people blindly thank me for “defending their freedom,” because I think that blindly supporting the military is exactly what keeps us in perpetual war.
19. “Truth be told…”
I’m an Army officer. But these are my own personal opinions…
I’m fairly liberal. Although, truth be told I… (story continued on the next page…).
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I’m fairly liberal. Although, truth be told I mainly align more with the Democrats because I believe that 1) there is serious wealth inequality in this country, and we need welfare if the free market is unwilling to pay a livable wage; and 2) the Republicans have too many people (maybe a small vocal minority) that speak as if they want to install a Christian theocracy in the US.
Mainly my opinions have unchanged. I have had impassioned debates with several close colleagues, and they make very valid arguments. I respect their opinions, and I believe they have actually thought about them. But I’ve also heard people spew off crap that borderlines on tin-foil hat conspiracy theory….or they’re just repeating something they heard on FoxNews or read on the BreitBart site (or whatever the hell it’s called).
I would say that the serious arguments have made me either rethink my belief or confirm my beliefs by additional research.
It’s pretty annoying when people start saying disparaging remarks about President Obama or liberals in general. Seriously, just because I wear the uniform doesn’t mean my political views are in the same foxhole, so to speak. However, these are aside comments. Things are professional in public.
But, it should be worth noting that those foxholes, as different as they might be, are still pointed outward–against the enemies of the United States, its Constitution, and our way of life.
20. The whole system is flawed.
Former marine here. I volunteered for two tours out to Fallujah, left the corps, became a highly paid contractor and did 18 months in Afghanistan. A majority of the time (95%) I was working at the highest headquarters echelon level, where the commanding general worked down the hallway from me. I could go listen in on any daily staff briefings if I wanted to. I worked in an “Information Management Office”, where I designed and built enterprise level software systems to manage various aspects of the war efforts (particularly reconstruction project management and assessing where we’re winning and losing the wars).
Overall, my political leanings are very independent. I don’t identify with democrats or republicans, I think both parties are quite misguided, but in different ways. I have come to realize that the institutions which we depend on (as members of the public) are run by flawed human beings who will make mistakes, whether that’s our political institutions, our legal institutions, our sources of news and information, our military institutions, etc. In order for these institutions to be the best at furthering the public’s best interests, they need to attract and retain the brightest and hardest working people available. When they don’t, the flaws become much more glaring and that leads to public distrust and cynicism (which I have in abundance). I think a lot of the institutions we (the public) rely on are fundamentally flawed in their systematic design.
21. “The racism is true.”
The racism is true. I grew up in the south, that sort of language was spoken by anyone from school administrators, to parents, to kids. Teachers in class? Slurs. It happened through the 90s. I am appalled at myself for it, and working on it, but the racism toned down quite a bit as I actually started to learn of the culture and personality of these people I hated, for no other reason than a handful of people that looked like them caused so much destruction.
22. Being in the military can really challenge your views.
Army Medic Veteran.
I did a complete 180.
Looking back I believe that I was very naive about my political views, I was very conservative a Christian and really bought into the “America is the greatest planet in the world” propaganda.
I was stationed in Germany for 6 years and did two tours in Iraq.
Now I am a full blown liberal. I am a supporter of Bernie Sanders and I am an Atheist.
23. Things change.
Before the military: I was a raging liberal hippie guy.
After 5 years in the military (story continued on the next page…):
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I’m still a liberal on social issues that deal with stuff at home, such as immigration, health care, gay rights, etc. I feel that the military pushed my foreign policy views to the right. I support the 2nd amendment, I feel that we should have a strong military and do whatever it takes to smoke all of ISIS, Taliban, Boko Haram, etc off the face of the earth as quick as possible. However, I’m a fan of bringing home our troops as soon as possible to get them out of harm’s way and back to their families.
24. Guess you would kind of lose faith in government.
I’m less likely to believe in fairy tales sold by the politicians. “The government can fix all your problems!” Really, is this the same government that charged my unit $8 for a small screw I could have picked up at Home Depot for a few cents? No, it wasn’t any kind of special screw, just a screw for a CUCV (a.k.a., Chevy Blazer). The government allocates all the resources, and found that if you really need your truck fixed soon you have to rely on good-old capitalism — slipping a six pack of beer to the motor sergeant.
25. “I really cannot stand any politician that brags about serving.”
I went into the marines being a conservative and came out hating all of them.
None of these politicians really care about soldiers. They just pretend in order to get votes from people who also don’t really care about soldiers but do so because it makes them feel patriotic.
If you cared about your soldiers, you would be out pushing the government to raise taxes and get us gear that was not a decade out of date.
The conservatives feel government does not work and do their best to ensure it won’t work.
The liberals want to fix the government by giving the government more power but not actually fixing the underlying issue of the government not fucking working.
Also, I really cannot stand any politician that brags about serving. Some of the dumbest people I have ever encountered served along with me. Being in the military is not something special.
26. Big switch!
I went from a staunch conservative to a pretty liberal anti-war fella. Bernie Sanders, what a guy! And yes I was combat arms outside the wire. Way outside the wire. Five deployments.