Here’s another post for the “stupid shit I learned in the comment section of a newspaper” file. I got so fired up after an exchange I had in the comment section, that I just had to write another blog post today. So here I am, venting my spleen. If you came here to read this and then straighten me out, just know that I agree with you that it’s bullshit that VMI turns out abusers. My father, uncle, and several cousins are VMI graduates. At least two of my aunts and an uncle were employed there for many years. I know about the culture at VMI. I am also an Air Force brat and former Army wife… although my husband still works for the Army, so I’m still in the culture.
Apparently, I’ve been living in the Twilight Zone, though… unaware of what REALLY goes on in the military and at military colleges. Why? Because I didn’t condemn a photo shared by the Washington Post in an article about the 25th anniversary of allowing women to attend. I will admit the photo is shocking. I have run out of free articles, so I can’t unlock this one for my readers, but if you click the link, you can see the alarming photo. It’s a picture of 18 year old Megan Smith of Colorado, who was one of 30 brave young women who matriculated at VMI in 1997, when it first admitted women. She’s tiny, and surrounded by several large young men who are screaming at her. This is a scene that has played out at VMI since 1839. My father went through it, as did my uncle, and at least four cousins. Most of them went on to serve as officers in the military, although my dad was the only one to stay in long enough to retire with full benefits.
Megan Smith is now married, and works as a European Patent lawyer in the South of France, near Marseilles. She was extensively interviewed for the article, and several photos were included of her during her time at VMI. I didn’t get the sense that she blamed VMI for any trauma. In fact, she outright stated that everyone was being treated in the same way. I’m sure some of her male Brother Rats were not much bigger than she was, either, and they were getting screamed at, too. I would also bet that learning how to deal with high pressure verbal confrontations has served her well in her law career.
I don’t think I would have enjoyed VMI myself. Personally, I don’t like being screamed at or berated. I would consider it verbal abuse. But that’s me… and I know that many people who have gone through VMI came out of it absolutely LOVING the school. My dad worshiped VMI. He was tickled pink that I got married there, even though Bill isn’t himself a graduate. Thousands of people went through exactly what Megan Smith went through at VMI. Many thousands more have endured the same treatment in basic training for one of the services or at other military colleges. Or… maybe they’ve gotten it in other training. I’ll bet many a physician has gone through their share of abuse during their internships. For some people, it’s a rite of passage. For others, it’s traumatizing. But isn’t it nice to be able to choose which path one wishes to take?
Well, some guy named Kent decided to take me on. He claimed that the type of training at VMI attracts psychopaths and abusers, and then sanctimoniously lectured me about how just because it’s “tradition”, that doesn’t mean it’s not damaging. I will agree. To some people, Hell Week and being on the Rat Line probably is traumatizing and damaging. But that’s not everyone. If you think about it, my two years in the Peace Corps might have traumatized some people. I grew from it, but others might not have been able to hack it. Not everyone is cut out for the Peace Corps. Not everyone is made for military life. It is what it is.
When I didn’t agree with Kent, he started to mansplain, which immediately turned me off. I can’t stand people who try to lecture me, especially when they make assumptions about who I am, what I know, and how I think. So I told him I didn’t appreciate him trying to tell me what I do and don’t know, especially since we’re strangers. Then I advised him to have a good day. Most people would naturally take that to mean the conversation is over, but not Kent. He came back with two more paragraphs of the same drivel. So I wrote, “I said I was done. You are not very respectful yourself, are you?” (In fact, I would call it abuse.)
He came back with another two or three paragraphs that were rude, dismissive, and insulting, complete with sarcasm and lecturing. I guess he didn’t realize that as he was lecturing me about abuse, he had become rather abusive himself. So I blocked him.
Then I got a comment from a woman named Sherry, who told me that abuse always comes from the military. I told her she was wrong. Then she laugh reacted and wrote, “You must have never been in an abusive relationship.” That comment was surprising. It was if she almost would have hoped I had been abused by Bill. Like, it’s a negative that I have a good marriage! And no, I haven’t been involved in domestic violence at his hands, but he was in a domestic violence situation with his ex wife, and she was the aggressor. She was NOT in the military. He’s not the only one, either. He’s known people in the military who were abused by a spouse who wasn’t serving. I didn’t respond to her comment, other than to ask her not to make assumptions about people she doesn’t know.
Then I got another comment from someone named Diana, who also felt I needed schooling. She was basically respectful, but once again, I failed to understand why so many people seemed to NEED to correct my opinion. As if being browbeaten and harassed by a stranger in the comment section of a newspaper is going to make me “see the light” somehow. She lectured me about herd mentality, and how it leads to abuse, after I had already bid her, too, a good day.
So I came back and wrote that I think the VAST majority of people commenting on that article didn’t read it, because it’s behind a paywall. They are reacting to a shocking photo. Most of them have zero experience with the school. I am writing as someone whose uncle actually renovated the barracks for the women in 1997, as he was in charge of the physical plant at the time. No, I didn’t attend VMI, but I have many relatives who either worked there or went there. And I have firsthand experience with the school and its graduates. I would not pay to go to VMI. It’s not for me. BUT– I did go to Longwood University, a coed school, where I experienced unwelcome and inappropriate interactions with people sometimes. But you know what? I have experienced that multiple times in multiple situations. Unfortunately as much as we’d like it not to be so, sometimes abuse is part of life. And part of life is learning how to deal with it and move on.
I also explained to Diana that I have both a MSW and a MPH, so I know something about abuse. I don’t need her to explain it to me, nor does she need to tell me about “herd mentality”. I just wanted to make a simple comment as someone with some applicable ties to the school. My comment doesn’t give people license to preach at me, diagnose me, or make erroneous assumptions about my life experiences.
No one is forced to go to VMI or any of the other military colleges. No one is forced to stay there if they hate it. No one is forced to join the military or be a police officer or do any other job they don’t like. Frankly, I think that learning how to cope in stressful situations is a good thing. At least if someone goes too far at VMI, something can be done about it.
Moreover, that exchange really, once again, reminds me why Donald Trump got elected. People don’t like to be lectured by people who don’t know what they’re talking about… or make assumptions that you don’t know what YOU’RE talking about. My father was a VMI grad, and he was a veteran. And yes, he was abusive to me at times. But I think he would have been that way regardless. In fact, I was telling Bill that I think that if my dad hadn’t joined the Air Force, he would have been worse. My dad’s drinking and abuse didn’t get especially bad until he was in business for himself, facing the stress of making enough money every month to keep the business going. Granted, the PTSD he suffered in Vietnam didn’t help, either. But he also had PTSD from being raised by an abusive alcoholic. That wouldn’t have changed if he had gone to a regular college and stayed a civilian (not that he necessarily could have in the Vietnam era).
Wouldn’t the world be a boring place if everyone felt compelled to say the same thing as their neighbor says? Or think the way their neighbor thinks? I don’t think any of my comments were that out of line. They were based on a lifetime of actual experience with people who legitimately know VMI intimately, and my own personal experiences, not just a news story and a shocking photo. It makes me sad that people feel like they need to correct other people’s opinions and make assumptions about them, especially when they are total strangers. I just wanted to leave a comment, for Christ’s sake. But I guess that’s another lesson that it’s better to keep quiet, lest you get sucked into stupidity.