In Front Toward Enemy: War, Veterans, and the Homefront, Daniel R. Green uses his own experiences with war from having served five military and civilian tours in Afghanistan and Iraq and provides a different perspective on the transition home. Using sociological, philosophical, literary, cultural, historical, and political perspectives he provides a venue for the countless conversations he has had with his fellow veterans about their own experiences as a way to assist others with their transition from war and the military to peace and civilian life.
Green provides not just a war veteran’s views but the amplifying perspective of a political scientist—as well as a reserve officer and defense official—in order to rescue the issue of the “returning veteran” from the field of psychology and to broaden the understanding of the experience of war for veterans.
This book bridges the gap between war veterans and their fellow citizens, sheds light on the quiet conversations that take place among veterans about their experiences, and enriches the collective understanding of how wars affect people.
You can order your copy here. The following interview has been edited and condensed.
It’s a reference to Claymores.
I thought it was something most veterans would understand. It’s also a metaphor for veterans putting their front toward the enemy, being confident. It’s the idea that you have to adopt a sort of demeanor when you deploy and serve in foreign wars. What is that demeanor? What is that need?
Is that demeanor what troops bring home with them? Does it embolden, discourage, alleviate?
I think in the military, one of the adaptations you go through is you become a member of a small unit and it’s important you play that role at the right time, on target, because the individual is supplemented with the goals of the team. It’s important you are seen as self contained, self-responsible. That demeanor comes back home with you.
I also think we have this norm in the military of being in charge of yourself, taking responsibility. You live with people you work with so there’s an added dimension. That toughness you have to cultivate to be in combat is another aspect.
I have a friend who called himself a SCU, a self-contained unit, an ideal we don’t often achieve, but people in the military feel they often need to achieve.
Does this somehow shape the way we as civilians perceive veterans?
My view is that veterans tend to be seen as victims, heroes or psychopaths. These are the three broad categories into which civilian society places war veterans. Perhaps all three depend on the circumstances. Veterans to one degree or another reject those categories, but have some connection to those three: they sympathize.
You essentially adapt to the war zone environment, adapt and survive. So what are these adaptations in combat? Comfort with violence. But there’s also an adaptation to insurgency which is different from conventional war, an adaptation to working within the US military, and living in a developing country, all occurring with veterans of these conflicts. And these all create certain values, personality traits, that will come back home and not necessarily mesh well with civilian society.
If you’re a police officer, a sheriff's deputy, a lot of these adaptations make sense — how you come back and how you adapt.
How can those adaptations be parlayed for civilian life, and what may be some of the takeaways or lessons we can learn from those adaptations?
One adaptation to insurgency is, if you’re doing counter insurgency correctly, you’re working by, with, and through local partners. One of the skills you need to do that well is you have to buid a raport with people, a sympathy and empathy, have some understanding of their culture whether it be Islam or tribal values.
These are skills that are very, very good when you come home and are trying to adapt to a new beginning. Well, you’ve actually been doing this for a year or so. You have the ability to see from other people’s perspectives.
Other adaptations that are positive: we think indirectly, we think in a networked way. In America, we are very hierarchical, top down, very formal. But in Iraq and Afghanistan they’re indirect, informal. Whether they’re business networks, ethinc networks, family networks, if you're trying to do your job well you’ve got to understand, that’s how they operate.
We’re talking here a bit about what could be considered refocusing mission objectives.
If you want to understand this generation of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans you have to think beyond these simple categories. The experience of war changes everyone and impacts them differently, but the way they process that experience takes place in a multidisciplinary context which also influences how they process those experiences.
I think we have to have a better understanding of these veterans.
We see them too frequently as victims of their circumstances, rather than these incredibly accomplished people who’ve done incredible things on behalf of their country.
They’re ready to do well and take on the mantle of leadership for the next generation.
Daniel R. Green, Ph.D, is a Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserves and has mobilized four times for service in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He also served with the U.S. Department of State as the political advisor to a Provincial Reconstruction Team in southern Afghanistan. He is the author of The Valley's Edge: A Year with the Pashtuns in the Heartland of the Taliban and In the Warlords’ Shadow: Special Operations Forces, the Afghans, and their Fight Against the Taliban, and coauthor of Fallujah Redux: The Anbar Awakening and the Struggle with Al- Qaeda. He has also served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Force Development (2019-2021) with the Office of the Secretary of Defense at the U.S. Department of Defense. He is a recipient of the Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service (2021), the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s Exceptional Public Service Award (2009), the U.S. Department of State’s Superior Honor Award (2005), and the U.S. Army’s Superior Civilian Honor Award (2005).