The article connects the politics of racism with the social issue of Veterans in transition by looking at how “social justice” can serve as a perverted virtue to justify racist ideology as well as provide sense of purpose and belonging.
Steve Rose is a PhD graduate of the Department of Sociology at Queens University. His doctoral research focused on the social barriers facing Canadian Veterans in transition to civilian life, as related to suicidal ideation. He has also worked with the office of the Veterans ombudsman on research aimed at defining a “successful transition” for medically released Veterans, and is currently a lecturer in the sociology department at Eastern Michigan University.
The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) might sound like a cultural relic, hardly taken seriously in the 21st century, but it is actively recruiting American Veterans. A recent VICE documentary takes an inside journey into this divisive hate group, uncovering why Veterans are joining their ranks.
Founded shortly after the civil war, the KKK originally served as a support-group for disenfranchised and disgruntled confederate Veterans. Their mandate read:
“To protect the weak, innocent and defenseless from the indignities, wrongs, and outrage of the lawless, the violent, and the brutal; to relieve the injured and oppressed especially the widows and orphans of ex-Confederate soldiers”
Taking out the last line, one might mistake this for a contemporary social justice initiative or a counter-terrorist mandate. How could this be the mandate of one of the most infamous hate groups? The answer to this question gives us insight into why Veterans have joined the KKK.
What do Veterans, the KKK, and the rest of us have in common? The need for a sense of justice and belonging. The most extreme acts of violence are often committed due to one’s sense that it is for a just cause. Even murder-suicides are shown to result from a perversion of virtue, as argued by psychologist Thomas Joiner.
The KKK always had close recruitment ties to periods with a large influx of Veterans in transition. This occurred after each of the world wars, continuing to the most recent influx of Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Veterans are a prime target for the KKK because of their training as well as their vulnerability during transition. In addition to dealing with anger and psychological traumas, Veterans in transition are often seeking a sense of belonging. Regarding the Klan, as a well-decorated Purple Heart Veteran in the documentary states at 4:15:
“…you get to know these guys and it’s like a sense of belonging. It’s like you found brothers and sisters you never knew you had.”
Upon hearing that line, it sounded strangely familiar. In my own research a Veteran expressed a similar sentiment when discussing the sense of belonging he found at Treble Victor – an entrepreneurial support-group for Canadian Veterans. He stated: “it’s like meeting family you never met.”
When struggling with transition, Veterans need a group to come home to. Although biological and conjugal families often assist, they are not enough. Veterans require meaningful occupational groups that can guide their new mission in a search for justice. This way, we can combat the influence of predatory hate-groups like the KKK and their perverted sense of virtue, while also utilizing the elite skills and training of our nation’s Veterans.
Our thanks to Dr. Rose. We will have additional discussions about the needs of veterans in the future.