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I challenge your logic. I have seen the hatred actually increase during/after deployment in many cases (which, in cases where they are required to emotionally distance themselves from the locals, is consistent with psychology thinking on cognitive dissonance).

Maybe years later, after some reflection and some distance from the situation, they come around. But not many, even in infantry units that routinely leave the wire, are really given a chance to get to know the locals. They do know, however, that somebody had to have seen the IEDs get buried that are killing their friends, and that somebody is, in many AOs, not stepping forward.

I think the lack of vets speaking against the Ground Zero mosque is at least as likely a function of 1.) a general aversion to "politics" because their military experience turned them off from it, because they mistakenly believe that the military has some authority to regulate their behavior in the civilian world, and because it's not cool to be a protestor, and 2.) a certain political subset of vets who are not down with the Ground Zero hysteria are overrepresented in NYC and the Eastern Seaboard.

Finally, I would point to the general tendency of people to self-censor when speaking to others with whom they aren't completely familiar: There is likely a healthy amount of "Islamophobia" (itself a flawed term, IMO) that is being kept to onesself among vets who want to lay low.

Phil Perspective

Why would the locals snitch even if they saw something? Maybe they don't want to get their family killed. Maybe they were paid hush money. Hell, even the police here in the U.S. can't protect people that talk to the cops. Why do you expect Afghanistan and Iraq to be any different. "No snitching" crosses all borders and boundaries.


You say, "because they mistakenly believe that the military has some authority to regulate their behavior in the civilian world"

There is no mistake about it. The military DOES have a say in regulating behavior in the civilian world. For soldiers, there is no civilian world. We are soldiers 24 hours a day.


I dunno. But it's kind of spooky to me. I remember coming home and trying to tell people how cool the Vietnamese were. Their language was HARD, their food was delicious, and most of all they were just like US!

They were. Vietnamese people might be the MOST like Americans at their core of any nationality I know. We told the same jokes. We thought the same shit was funny. The banter, brutal mockery and laughter was the same. I'll just never forget the realization that, while we looked and talked so differently, they were LIKE me and I LIKED them.

Twenty five years later I found myself working at a company in Silicon Valley where the entire production staff was Vietnamese refugees. Some ex-ARVN, some just boat people. They all spoke pretty good, if heavily accented English. And I'll never forget the hours bantering with and teasing them.

The epiphany is simple, just as it is hard. They're people. They found themselves where they were, just as I found myself in the same place. They didn't ask for it - some went bad, the rest just tried to get by. From the Fishhook to Sunnyvale, I LOVE those folks. And I've always thought there was something akin to hope in that...


This is absolutely true. I found this to be the same regarding Serbs in Bosnia. The difference, in my case, is that Serbs never personally attacked me as an individual with the intent of causing death - but Muslims did on several occasions. And I still am very anti-Islamaphobic. In fact, my biggest thought on 9/11 this year was, "I wish the world could get past the 'all Muslims are terrorists' mentality."

I think the autor is spot on - combat vets have a lot of interaction with Muslims. Many who want to kill us, but many who are friendly. We get to know them on a personal level. As the Hwarang said, "Killing is not personal - never make it so." Killing isn't personal. Interacting with people when purchasing phone cards, sodas, newspapers, clothes, etc, or waiting for / riding the bus/taxi. Before you say, "they were nice because they wanted your money," it was the same when meeting people in public transportation, driving license offices, etc. The bulk of "them" are genuinely kind people.


Totally agree. Thanks for posting this, Spencer.

@ Jason; the only correct observation in your post that I see is that 'Islamophobia' is an etymologically awful word, like antisemitism.

In every tour that I have been on, units that interacted with local nationals (which were often paired with local security forces) had Iraqi or Afghan buddies and colleagues, often with ridiculous nicknames or horribly mispronounced native names, e.g. Yaya for Yahya or Allah for A'la.

If anything, the Muslim-on-Muslim violence illustrates that there is no monolithic entity called 'the Muslims.' It's a figment of the collective imagination of xenophobic Muslim and American fundamentalists.


Totally true in my estimation. I spent tons of time just working side by side with Iraqis during my time in the Air Force, and now I found myself as the one trying to fight back against all the crazy anti-Muslim stuff that most of the people from my old town send me in emails. It's funny and yet sad, as they seem to think that I'll be super supportive of their racist rants and anti-Ground Zero mosque tracts because I'm a veteran and I served in OIF. The worst is that they seem to just ignore me when I try to say otherwise, or they just say that I was hoodwinked. They get their kicks feeling like people who "support the troops" but then they can't deal with the crazy ideas we come back with after having done our time.


Thanks for this post. I agree with you wholeheartedly. You reinforce my own experience with Muslims. We Vets have to educate our own at home whenever and where ever we can about them. They indeed are not much more different than us. But it will be a difficult if not daunting mission but we have to start sometime.


"For soldiers, there is no civilian world. We are soldiers 24 hours a day."

Right up until you ETS. But vets think the military can still reach into their lives, which it can't.


"the only correct observation in your post that I see is that 'Islamophobia' is an etymologically awful word, like antisemitism"

My observation that psychological research has shown a known and predictable tendency of human beings to protect themselves from cognitive dissonance by fostering an increasingly negative perception, leading all the way to hatred, of another person or group when they are forced to emotionally distance themselves from said person/group or treat that person/group in a way which challenges their own identity is incorrect?

srpska vatra

I can take 'em or leave 'em. I have no love for islam.

Srpska Vatra 94-95
Iraq 06-07 /08-09

Jim Thompson

I find that I generally agree with your comment. I think I could contribute to your anectodal evidence if called upon, and find I do not have any real issue with greater Islam, just a particular sect or fundamentalism. I could say the same for Christianity or Judaism though - extremism is ugly exist and comes in every flavor.

In reviewing the other comments to your blog, from cognitive dissonance through full on cowboy stoicism, I would like to point out that the train of thoughts show a failry mature and sophisiticated view of Islam and middle eastern people. I was proud when I saw this in my soldiers. I am glad and gratified to see it in this forum.

Lisa Wines

My neighborhood in Paris is heavily populated with Muslims, with lots of bearded men and many women in veils/burqas and many Halal butcher shops. During Ramadan, it's traditional for Muslims to give - to their family, neighbors, to charity, etc. I experienced this when I ordered a special soup made at Ramadan, from a local Halal butcher. You order it in the morning and in the evening you come with your own pot and they ladle it out for you. After standing in a little line with other ladies and their pots, me in my skimpy western dress and them in their modest burqas, I asked the butcher how much I owed him. He said, "nothing." It was his gift to me and I was honored. He didn't know me at all. It was the first time I had shopped there. I've had friends from America come to visit me in Paris who had a mistrust of Islam. But when they saw busy Muslim people - walking in the streets, taking the bus/Metro, picking their kids up from day care or school, shopping, chatting with friends on the corner - my friends realized that ALL those people couldn't be terrorists. They are just people, like you and me.


I also have to agree. Having grown up not too far from Robert Matthews and his fellow Christian Identity nutters in the 1980s, I refused to allow their crimes to define Christianity (same for Anders Breivik, of course). At war with Iraq in 1991 I often was angry but did not hate, and upon meeting some old foes in Iraq in 2009 found plenty in common with them as Airmen. When UBL's animals flew airplanes full of innocents into my office building and the Twin Towers, I refused to allow them to define Islam for me. Also anecdotal, but I found that those who had fought in Desert Storm (including one who had been a POW in Baghdad) were opposed to invading Iraq at a rate of about 9:1. Not out of any love for Saddam or fear of his rattletrap army, but because we had a pretty good idea of what would come after we'd "won". There are clearly wide cultural differences between Americans and the peoples of the Middle East, but I agree that those who have fought over there are the most likely to understand both the good and the bad without caricatures.


I think you are on to something. It is a truism that we are all the same, we have more in common with each other than there are differences between us, but civilians far removed from war often forget it. My Irish father, who worked with the British Army in the 1980s, used to say that the least anti-Irish place in Britain at that time was the British Army, despite the dangers of tours of duty in Northern Ireland, which rarely passed without a deadly ambush by Irish Republican terrorists. Irishmen working in the British Army were more likely to be known as "Micks" than the more derogatory "Paddies". I think the more professional and experienced the force, and the more skilled its leadership, the more it focuses on the enemy organization, and not the wider culture/demographic group from which it is drawn.

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