Bridging a Gap Between Knowledge and Experience: Civilian Views of Military Service
Assume that knowledge can never exceed experience. In the case of studying the military and veterans’ issues, then, how much can a civilian understand, or how much credibility might a civilian have to leverage when making claims about ideology, motives, or identity concerning veterans? Are the experiences of veterans insulated from the public in a way that deflects any possible judgment from outsiders, from civilians? Consider the value judgments concerning the military that reveal a certain binary opposition: I support the troops (read: thank god it’s not me) or I’m anti-military (read: I wouldn’t go if you paid me). Both positions have no hope of catching alive the idea of being a part of that military institution. Can anyone outside of the realm of experience observe, or “know,” and therefore form value judgments about veterans? In this paper, Enlightenment- and Progressive-era rhetoricians like Hugh Blair, Richard Whately, and Wayne Booth, among others, offer insights into how the attitude of the American public and the common sense we share plays a role in defining the tastefulness, or appropriateness, of discourse about veterans. A change in society’s common understanding of what is tasteful will not only limit how ideas are formed, but these boundaries will disqualify any ideas or discourse outside of what is accepted as tasteful. The articulation of our nation’s sentiment surrounding veterans is constricted not only by what is considered tasteful but also by a perceived and actual distance between civilians and military personnel. The burden of proof for arguments concerning the military and veterans rests on civilians who will never have access to the knowledge that experience places in the hands of veterans. Rhetorically, veterans share a common sense language that is removed from the general population, and therefore from popular opinion. Insights from rhetorical theory can be a productive starting point from which to study how veterans as a population resist any value judgments from civilians that fall outside the binary opposition of for or against.