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This week Rene Hernandez—Labragirl Resident Blogger and Marine veteran—ponders issues surrounding veterans protesting the wars in which they fought. Rene’s conversation takes you from modern-day veterans throwing their combat medals away in protest to the intimate representation of a veteran protesting the Vietnam War in Born on the Fourth of July. Looking at both news and film representations of veterans protesting war opens up an interesting area of conversation.

What do you think?

Respond below!


Rene Hernandez

Rene Hernandez

Recently, I read a news story about a group of Iraq and Afghan War veterans in Chicago protesting against NATO and the Afghan War. In an act of protest, many of these veterans threw away the combat medals they earned in the Iraq and Afghan wars. This form of protest is not new within the veteran community— it was practiced regularly during Vietnam.

This is an extreme form of protest. Many combat veterans view their ribbons as a tangible symbol of their combat tours, something that they earned from enduring extreme sacrifices and hardships serving their nation in a war zone. For many combat veterans, it is no small gesture to simply discard these combat medals as meaningless.

{Source: http://www.kingsacademy.com/mhodges/03_The-World-since-1900/12_The-Uncertain-70s/pictures/VEND-182_Vet-tossing-back-his-medal_1971.jpg} A Vietnam veteran throws his Bronze Star on the steps of the Capital in protest.

I usually enjoy reading the comments section of these on-line news articles. Some people often leave witty and humorous comments, which are good for the occasional laugh. Others often post very insightful comments that leave you thinking more in-depth about the story. Then there are certain commentators that leave what I often perceive as extremely hate filled comments that do not appear to have any reason to them other than to condemn a certain race, nationality, or political group. These comments appear to be unsupported by any facts or rationale, but rather are supported by bigotry and prejudice.

{Source: http://www.veteranstoday.com/2012/05/22/us-war-veterans-tossing-medals-back-at-nato-was-a-heroic-act208180/war-veterans-throw-away-their-medals-2/} US Veterans throw their medals away in protest.

I was shocked to see that the majority of the commentators viciously attacked the protesters and condemned them as traitors for participating in an action that appeared to be “anti-American”. Many of these commentators stated that the veterans’ actions were despicable and treasonous. Some went as far as to claim that the veterans protesting were as bad as the extremists that they fought against in Iraq and Afghanistan. While there were a few commentators that defended the veterans as having the right to protest against the Afghan War, the majority of the commentators were in agreement that the veterans’ actions were treasonous.

After reading many of these comments, I couldn’t help but to think about my own personal interactions with combat veterans. Most of the combat veterans whom I have personally met have wholeheartedly supported the wars in which they have fought. However, I have met a handful of combat veterans who were completely against the actions of the U.S. military in the wars that they personally served. Many of these combat veterans had legitimate opinions about why they felt that way, and many of them did not necessarily protest the U.S. government as whole, but only the American foreign policy regarding these military conflicts. One thing was for certain, these veterans had strong opinions that did not necessarily match the opinions of the majority of veterans.

{Source: http://blog.thedemocraticdaily.com/wp-content/IraqVetsAgainstWar.jpg} An image of Iraq Veterans protesting in 2007.

This discussion also reminded me of the film Born on the Fourth of July (1989). In Born on the Fourth of July, Tom Cruise portrays Ron Kovic, a Marine veteran who served two tours of duty in the Vietnam War. Ron was paralyzed from the waist down after being wounded in battle.

Upon returning from Vietnam, Ron is a strong supporter of the War and vehemently defends the war. In one scene, Ron confronts his brother about his anti-war beliefs. Ron’s brother points out that Ron served in the war only to come back handicapped and in a wheelchair. Ron angrily tells his brother that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about and that he could “love it or leave it”, an expression that means either support the United States or get out of it.

{Source: http://www.filmlinc.com/films/on-sale/born-on-the-fourth-of-july} Tom Cruise plays Veteran, Ron Kovic in the film Born on the Fourth of July.

As the film progresses, Ron encounters more and more people within the public and his circle of friends who are indifferent or antagonistic against his military service. Because of this, Ron begins to question the importance of the personal and physical sacrifices that he made as a result of his combat service. In one scene, while playing pool in a bar, Ron begins to ramble on about how nobody cares about the sacrifices made by service members in the war. During his speech, a World War II veteran confronts Ron and tells him to not complain because he believes that every combat veteran endures hardships, which will garner the veteran no sympathy from the general population because it is all part of serving one’s country.

All of the aforementioned events, plus a few more, causes Ron to turn from a staunch Vietnam War supporter to a member of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. The last scene of the movie takes place at the 1972 Republican National Convention in Miami, where Ron and his group protest against the war. As Ron tells a reporter his reasons for being against the war, people shout hateful remarks at Ron and his supporters and eventually escort him out of the convention.

This scene reminded me of the sentiments expressed in the comment section of the news story. As I read the hateful messages that the commentators made about the veterans protesting in Chicago, I could almost picture them as being the same crowd that was depicted in the film.

Born on the Fourth of July brings forth these important questions for discussion:

Should veterans protest against wars in which they fought?

How does the portrayal of veterans protesting Born on the Fourth of July and other films shape the public’s understanding of war protest by veterans?

Does protesting wars in which they fought make veterans traitors or hypocrites?

Does serving in a war give the viewpoints of combat veterans more justification since they actually fought in the war?

What do you think? Post below.

Until next time,


Read Rene’s previous blog post about the portrayal of the Marine Psyche in Full Metal Jacket here.


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