As I retired from a relatively uneventful career in the peacetime Air Force in 1997, I’ve been out of the military for longer than I was in it. I don’t hang around so much in military veteran circles online as I did early in the decade afterwards, when my daughter was serving in the Marines after 9/11 and deployed to Kuwait and Iraq. But she does venture into veteran social media circles, on a local basis through organizations and outlets like Bourbiz, Grunt Style, Ranger Up, and Black Rifle Coffee … and she called my attention to what amounts to a dumpster fire ongoing in veteran circles. Holy heck, it’s more a raging nuclear inferno than your plain ordinary social media dumpster fire. Read the series of articles, she said, it’s jaw-dropping – and so I did. Oh. My. G*d. I thought the Vietnam-era “stolen valor” incidents so thoroughly documented in this book were the far frozen limit, but this Steele character appears to have ventured into hitherto unexplored dimensions.
We read the series of linked articles and discussed them while walking the dogs that morning – discussed mostly how the various linked pictures of Steele and his service and post-service career set every mental alarm madly pinging in both of us. My daughter had been casually aware of him as a meme and discounted them as most probably based on stock footage – not of a real veteran, because they seemed so staged. As if someone was using stills and actors from an over-the-top Gulf War movie version of Rambo. Or as my daughter explained; Steele just appeared like a parody of the most flamboyantly obnoxious “Bro Vet” ever. (see definition here.) My daughter is not a fan of the extreme bro vets; the most toxically masculine of them are pretty obnoxious about female veterans.
For an explanation of my own mental alarm in the case of Landon Steele, I’m of a generation where the slightly older Vietnam and Vietnam-era veterans were much more likely to downplay their service and “disappear” any visual evidence of having served in the military – things like caps, t-shirts and service rings. There was a stigma to being in or having served, which didn’t even begin to let up until the early 1980s. Arthur Hadley called it the “other America of Defense” in The Straw Giant, his 1986 study of the military as it existed then, describing the military as a kind of invisible archipelago, unknown and disregarded by the media, political and academic elite. And notably, what with my own military service, I’ve known, associated, worked with, and occasional dated romantically – a lot of other veterans. Many of them had “interesting” experiences in their past service, for certain meanings of “interesting” up to and including tours of duty where their next of kin had excellent odds of collecting a life insurance payout. They usually didn’t talk much about those experiences. Oblique references, stories of a sometimes grimly comic nature, things that happened to other guys … the main understanding I came away with, is that a serious bad-ass does not need to boast or demonstrate being a serious bad-ass. The men whom I knew for certain had serious cred that way were almost always rather quiet, soft-spoken guys. They certainly had no need of being a kind of military veteran social media Kardashian. Your comments?