Matt Mabe graduated from West Point in 2002 and served two tours in Iraq. In 2007 he decided to go into journalism, left active service, and headed off to the Columbia School of Journalism. He tells us what he encountered at CSJ in the Columbia Journalism Review:
Columbia was a fresh start. no uniforms, no one to salute. At first, I relished being among students from different walks of life: lawyers and businesspeople, teachers and activists, creative people with strong convictions and a range of views on every issue. Few of them, however, had any experience with the military. Most, it seemed, had never met a veteran.
Some of their notions about military culture and the conduct of the war typified the simplistic views prevalent in the mainstream media. For example, there was a perception that military service was merely a last resort for poor kids or immigrants; all veterans, some people assumed, suffered some degree of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It signaled to me that the cultural rift between the institution I had left and the one I was joining was more hardwired than I had realized, and I increasingly found myself defending the military against stereotypes.
As the semester progressed, I felt a creeping sense of isolation. I had my own criticisms about the failed strategy that plunged Iraq into chaos, but I was resentful of the hostility from prominent panelists and lecturers at the school that year. One evening, an award-winning photographer presented work he’d done in Iraq to my war correspondence class. During his talk, he ridiculed the hapless officers and scheming NCOs he’d dealt with on his various embeds, caricaturing them with tired labels and silly voices. He even delivered a mocking impersonation of one dim-witted private assigned to protect him.
These were extreme views, yet as some of my classmates laughed that evening, images of the soldiers my unit had lost swirled in my head. Brave men who had died serving a cause they believed in didn’t deserve such desecration, I thought. I sought advice from a professor about how to manage the raw emotions these interactions provoked. Her response, as she later wrote in my performance evaluation, was hardly encouraging: “I would advise that Matt refrain from working in Iraq until he feels comfortable maintaining an emotional distance from his old life, so as not to impair his journalistic judgment.”
Captain Mabe had spent his entire adult life in an army uniform before heading off to CSJ, which probably accounts for a certain naivete about what to expect from his new colleagues. Did he really expect anything less than this sort of contempt from the J-school journalistic elites?
I suspect that prior to his experience at CSJ he might have dismissed those who would have talked about the general ignorance and anti-military bias of the mainstream media as just so much right-wing hysteria. In fact, he begins his article by telling us that his battalion commander offered a few parting words of discouragement, “I just want you to understand that you’re leaving the most respected profession in America for one of the least.” But Captain Mabe’s mind was made up. His battalion commander shook his head, tightly crossed his arms and said: “If you ever happen to write about the military, just remember where you came from,” he said. “Don’t dishonor us.”
Not bad advice, I’d say, from what the CSJ folks might consider a knuckle-dragging professional soldier.
As for that contemptible “award winning photo journalist” mocking the young private assigned to protect him, you can’t improve on Kipling:
Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap. . . .
For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!”
But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot;
An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;
An’ Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool—you bet that Tommy sees!
Captain Mabe has been recalled to active duty as a reservist and is now serving is Afghanistan.