Veterans Voices: Personal Reflections on the Freedom Wars and Beyond

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Benefits in Great Britain were closer linked to military ranks. Veterans and invalids were more than what demobilization or legislation made them. The thus institutionalized community offered individuals the space to remember and the support to defend their interests as well as to pursue their claim to moral authority based on the common war experience.

This was because of their numerical strength, but also, of course, because of the fact that their lives had been significantly and often visibly changed by the war - more so than of any other veteran. Some have argued for a separation of organizations of invalids and those of veterans. Most research, however, usually summarizes all veterans, including those physically maimed and physically fit in most cases this means convalesced. Even where it explicitly deals with disability, the term disabled, handicapped or invalid veteran is usually preferred.

This, however, ignores the fact that while many invalid veterans did indeed feel neglected and had good reason to engage in special interest associations, the narrative of being one of the First World War soldiers was central and vital to their self-perception, to their associations, and to their demands. They believed that their sacrifice gave them a special right to act on the behalf of the First World War combatants.

Numbers of active veterans in France came up to almost 3 million. The fact that French veterans were so active might have come as no surprise, given its long tradition of a stable national state with an active civil society. Other countries, however, might defy expectations. The British Legion peaked at only , members in , meaning that only about 10 percent of British ex-servicemen were registered with the Legion at its highest membership.

In comparison to the nearly 2. The American Legion was furthermore challenged by competition. However, in , VFW membership went up to , members. In , the VFW claimed almost , members while the American Legion sank to a membership of ,, more than , fewer members than in Here, political alignment seems, at least according to historiographical works, to have had a higher impact than other factors regional background, ranks, physical invalidity or not.

On the right-wing side, Stahlhelm membership peaked in with about ,; the Jungdeutscher Orden sported ca. While Austria and Russia shared the names with their predecessors, their governments explicitly opposed political responsibility for the participation in war: Poland , Czechoslovakia and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes only became states after the end of the war. German, Habsburg and Russian. However, one should keep in mind that Poland, just as other Eastern European countries, had for over a century not called any state its own; there was no tradition of social and political movements nor joint political culture comparable to that in Western European countries.

Much has been said and even more insinuated about the political tendencies of ex-servicemen. Mostly, public opinion as well as histories provide a mere overview on the topic and have been dominated by the same assumptions: In a more sophisticated version of this argument, veterans are considered to be reluctant to politics and to support anti-parliamentary views.

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French veterans are believed to be the only exception, in that they are mostly regarded as having continued a socialist and internationalist tradition. As so often, there is a grain of truth in these assumptions but they have to be put into perspective. Quick, forthright decisions, obedience to orders, and selfless commitment to higher causes became purposeful aspirations for the society as large.

John Horne underlines that.

Marcus, Australian colonel in HQ multinational forces in Iraq

The same argument can be served by looking at non-conservative groups. These associations were deeply influenced by their military experience, and accordingly felt at ease with the display of military symbols, while at the same time regarded their war experience as a reason to object to war, and to work to prevent further war. In Poland, about , men were registered as invalids in This number is surprisingly low compared to the number of recognized invalid veterans in other countries which was very probably due to restrictive invalid legislation.

France counted about 1,, veterans whose war afflictions had been registered, acknowledged and in one way or another compensated by the French state. It has to be said that France had the most encompassing legislation with regard to invalid veterans. In Germany , veterans were registered and treated as invalids, Great Britain counted , and the USA recognized war experience as the cause of the physical and psychological damage of , men in Veterans and their representatives criticized employers for not providing jobs for the disabled or ex-servicemen in general.

Furthermore, veterans blamed the state for failing to provide legal guidelines and financial aid for the reintegration. By the same token, most states chose to introduce a welfare concept that was closely linked to the concept of work. Invalidity was to be defined predominantly by a percentage of disability to work. Additionally, increased social welfare was clearly linked to political needs and objectives.

The return of the ex-servicemen, many of them wounded, called for a rapid processing of their request. A quick settlement was regarded as the best means to prevent and calm social protests in most countries. The majority of the 2. First World War veterans and invalids wanted more than merely the means to survive and a place to work: The reason they claimed to be otherwise - apolitical - was that they knew their political power was based on their numbers. Any division threatened to lessen their voice as a group. Political powers and parties tried to pull on them from all sides, and especially the radical parties welcomed veterans into their midst.

These attempts to mobilize veterans, by political camps on all sides, also demonstrates their political impact: Simply because veterans claimed they were apolitical does not mean they were. Looking at their fight for a right to benefits they were indeed more of a civil rights movement than might have been acknowledged. Annual meetings, lively correspondence and personal contacts created a transnational community.

Even ex-combatants who fought each other only a short time before now cultivated a joint commemoration of the dead and became engaged to pursue common interests. Initiated by the mostly pacifistic French ex-servicemen, FIDAC was founded in as an assembly of veterans who had served the armed forces of the allies. FIDAC wanted to provide a forum for an inter-allied commemoration of war and the dead, to organize inter-allied assemblies and thereby conserve an inter-allied comradeship of ex-servicemen.

Membership was restricted to veterans of the allied forces. This, among other reasons, set the need for the foundation of a second organization. Both the ILO International Labour Organisation and the League of Nations supported the cooperation of ex-servicemen, also, but not only, because they saw the opportunity of cooperation with its network.

The material interests meant welfare and supply, the moral interests referred to an active engagement against war. The majority of FIDAC members eventually decided to join CIAMAC the most famous exception being the British Legion , but despite this and their frequent collaboration the two organizations remained fundamentally distinct in their world-views. However, both collaborated to pursue their principal aims: Their shared past motivated the ex-servicemen to unite in transnational organizations to fight a common battle: Not just in spite of, but because of being ex-servicemen, they thought of themselves as morally able, responsible and justified to stand up for peace:.

But FIDAC with its continuity of wartime alliances stated disarmament and arbitration in international and bi-national conflicts as one of its major policies. The common interest of preventing another war became fundamental to the formation of a transnational community of veterans. Veterans chose a pragmatic approach to pacifism that rejected militarism and supported any form of peace building, but allowed defense.

Veterans were well aware of the limits and especially of the temporality of their impact. Youth work and the passing on of lessons learned in the war to the younger generation was an integral part of their work. Radical associations such as the Stahlhelm dedicated themselves to recruiting younger members, thus maintaining a war-prone spirit promoting revisionism and the need for re-armament. And how can we estimate the impact of their movement?

In order to respond to these two questions, it is helpful to break them down to different aspects of their work. After the First World War, returning soldiers statistically constituted a significant part of the population. The associations gave a platform for those men who not only experienced the war, but also decided to express how this experience had changed them and their lives.

They provided a space to commemorate the experience of war and camaraderie - among peers and among allies, eventually even among all soldiers who shared this experience including former enemies. They also provided space for the commemoration of the fallen. The reasons for and the effects of this are various. However, it was not a singular case. Joining associations to promote their view of the war, to demand a right to have their sacrifice recognized by state and society, and to receive financial and political support, was considered helpful by a significant number of men who fought the war.

Additionally, just as it is true for many other social movements, it should be remembered that the social and cultural impact of associations reaches far beyond the actual membership. Social movements have an impact on civil society in general. The battles they fought for veterans and invalid legislation benefited not only their members, but also anyone who applied for it.

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At the same time, the battles they fought for including their own interpretation of the war into the national narrative, introduced the strong voice of ex-servicemen into the discussion. By doing so, it challenged in both good and bad ways the ways politicians, high-ranking militaries or the civil societies remembered the war.

Finally, their attitude on war and peace proved to have a significant impact on the political atmosphere in civil society during the interwar period. Radical veterans challenged the state and parliamentary politics with protests and resistance, thus undermining their authority.

Unfortunately, as we know, they failed. This however does not belittle the importance of their deeds nor their significant impact on social and political structures in the post-war and interwar period. Veterans' Associations , in: International Encyclopedia of the First World War, ed.

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This text is licensed under: Origins, Composition and Output 4 Political or Apolitical? The army was personified not only by professional soldiers in fancy uniforms, but by crowds of nervous young men on their way to basic training, village boys home on leave, and veterans who gathered on Saturday nights to talk about their common military experience.

On the battlefield, the nation seemed far away, and patriotism empty and abstract; what mattered most were the men with whom a soldier fought, on whom he depended, and for whom he would, if necessary, suffer and die. As John Horne put it, They […] sought to construct new lives in the varied settings of the post-war world as they processed the memory of the war.

Steve, US army reserves sergeant in Iraq

Just exactly how they did this, and what importance they attached to it, was what turned them into veterans, and there was nothing automatic about it. John Horne underlines that The organizations through which veterans pursued their aims and expressed their war experience were as varied as the beliefs and backgrounds of their members.

They ranged politically from right to left, and socially they reflected both the civilian worlds from which the soldiers came and the military settings in which they had served. The British army I joined put a big focus on hearts and minds and had acted professionally in more recent conflict prior to Iraq; however the quagmire of Iraq and the way a certain few UK troops behaved during the conflict has damaged that image greatly, I do not think this is reflective of the armed forces as a whole.

My time in Iraq during the year of was the best and worst time of my life.

Iraq veterans around the world reflect: 'the best and worst time of my life'

I met some of the best friends I will ever have. However, the leadership was concerned primarily with their own agenda of promotion. The missions were unnecessarily and consistently dangerous hardly ever having the lives and moral health of the soldiers and marines as their priority. I live in dream called life, where nothing good seems real or sustainable. I also learned that creating community and healing holistically is the best way to transition from war.

The military is not addressing the suicide rate of its active duty because they refuse to approach mental health as a priority when returning. It is treated like a stigma and the soldier or marine is treated as damaged goods. I am proud of the work we did helping the local populace and the stability we provided, but I don't feel we did anything that will have a lasting impact.

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I would love to be proven wrong though. If Iraq and Afghanistan survive with some democratic functionality, it could have a huge beneficial impact on history. It was grueling and a relentless deployment, but it was an experience I will never forget, but at times wish I could. We did some good and dealt with the terrible. I am not down-trodden or overly prideful.

I did what I was ordered to do and served my country, but I hope my children do not. I hope my children enjoy their freedom and do right by themselves and their family. Ground-force occupations are a dated and absurd strategy to use in today's era of warfare. Big army is as dated of a strategy as colonial warfare was with standing lines. Politicians like to take pictures with us, but very few actually care about anything but enhancing their talking points. A soldier at the very least deserves to be spoken to, not used as an idle prop or in some display of North Korean-like parade propaganda.

I learned that I am not willing to just go along with thing because "it's my job". That position, often repeated, is a contender for the biggest cop-out statement in history. The war made me political and made me realize that imperialism is not a thing which used to happen; it did not end when pith helmets went out of vogue. I feel like I was able to witness first hand the souring of good intentions. I was stationed at Camp Bucca, the leading internment facility in Iraq, and I got to see the constant attempts to win hearts and minds go south because of cultural rifts.

I have no doubt in my mind that the intentions, at least in the lower echelons, were pure; we were really trying to help these people, to educate them, to feed their families, to provide health care. But our success had minimal impact. On the whole, they may be a little bit better-off for our efforts, but it wasn't worth the cost in lives or coffers.

Our mission was to train the Iraqi police officers in Baghdad and Sadr City. They loved seeing us every day, it meant they were getting training and equipment that they severely needed. Even more importantly, however, were the civilian Iraqi people with whom we interacted daily. You could see in their eyes how grateful they were for us being there. Whether we accomplished it or not can be debated, but these civilians were given hope for a better life by us being there. They were much more reluctant to post the positives such as when my unit helped secure polling places in Baghdad during the elections of January The stories about the Iraqi people taking democracy into their own hands were able to be found but they were generally buried beneath stories of a surprisingly few insurgent attacks on the polling places.

After returning from Iraq and separating from active duty service, I learned that it isn't easy to make the transition to civilian life. I didn't want to go to the VA, and I didn't want to talk about the things I'd experienced, and it took a long time to get over my post-traumatic stress. I heard someone say that there is a boot camp to break you down and submit to a life of orders, but no "reverse boot camp" to build you back up and give you the confidence to move forward after your service has ended.

Some may find it easy, but most combat vets need more support. Their stories show the diversity of experiences — in the field and coming home — of those who served: Marcus, Australian colonel in HQ multinational forces in Iraq I am very proud of being part of the multinational forces in Iraq. Jennifer Pacanowski, US army medic, Iraq My time in Iraq during the year of was the best and worst time of my life.

Veterans Voices: Personal Reflections on the Freedom Wars and Beyond Veterans Voices: Personal Reflections on the Freedom Wars and Beyond
Veterans Voices: Personal Reflections on the Freedom Wars and Beyond Veterans Voices: Personal Reflections on the Freedom Wars and Beyond
Veterans Voices: Personal Reflections on the Freedom Wars and Beyond Veterans Voices: Personal Reflections on the Freedom Wars and Beyond
Veterans Voices: Personal Reflections on the Freedom Wars and Beyond Veterans Voices: Personal Reflections on the Freedom Wars and Beyond
Veterans Voices: Personal Reflections on the Freedom Wars and Beyond Veterans Voices: Personal Reflections on the Freedom Wars and Beyond

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