Why I Hate Sentimental Videos of Soldiers Returning Home

We’ve all seen them; the videos of soldiers returning home from their stations abroad, often surprising their families through elaborately planned reunions.  The families are filled with a bouquet of emotions, but mostly, I’m sure, gratitude that their loved one is back safe from months or years away fighting for our country–finally home with a family that will surround them with the stability, affection, and safety they’ve missed for so long.  And the family will surely sleep better knowing the soldier can now report for duty at home again.

The videos inevitably elicit streaming tears from anyone with a soul. They capture the rare moments in a lifetime when love and pain and joy are almost palpable.  People feverishly post the videos on Facebook and challenge their friends to watch without crying–an impossible feat.  As we watch the surprise reunion unfold, there’s a sense of pride and moment where we seem to feel the burden of what it must be like to have a partner, a parent, a friend, a child  in a foreign land fighting for our country and freedom, finally returning to their safe place. The sacrifices the soldiers and families make become, for just a moment, real.

When Hollywood recently lost The Fast and Furious star, Paul Walker, social media nearly exploded in memoriam  for his tragic death.  Meanwhile, the number of United States military deaths are so staggering we maintain a collective numbness perhaps to avoid the reality of it or perhaps because it truly doesn’t seem real at all.

“60 Minutes” recently ran a piece on the plight of many soldiers returning home and the difficulties of adapting to civilian life, with many of them experiencing the debilitating and sometimes deadly effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other mental and physical health issues related to their service.  Likewise, The Daily Show has run a series of segments detailing the ways Veterans Affairs has failed the men and women returning home through poorly managed paperwork that affects their medical and psychiatric care.

While the videos we watch of the brave men and women who fight for our country returning home to their families are beautiful and poignant, it saddens me that we collectively don’t take as much interest in these people after the video quits rolling.  Are we only interested in the sentimentality of it all?  Is it just a good old-fashioned reunion story that allows us to feel emotions, but not enough to actually push our government to take care of those who take care of us?

I write this perhaps in part as a confession. I actually love these videos as much as everyone else.  I love the idea of a family reunited and the sense (however false) that all is right with the world.  The reality, however, is that these men and women need help after their tear-filled reunion with their families and their difficult and sacrificial work abroad. Perhaps if we remember that when the video camera stops rolling, these soldiers return home as parents, friends, spouses, and children who need assistance returning to “normal” life.

In light of the ways we as a society have failed our soldiers, the reunion videos feels hollow, maybe even fraudulent.  I challenge you, the next time you see a video of a soldier returning home, surprising his/her family, to remember we must do more. We must support veterans in bigger ways than simply sharing videos–slacktivism, as it were.  May the videos serve as a reminder that the reunion is just the beginning of a long and difficult journey to those who serve and are lucky enough to return home.

  • Veterans Leadership Program

    I am writing from Veterans Leadership Program of Southwestern PA, and we serve local Veterans here in the Pittsburgh and surrounding county region. The mission of VLP is to provide essential housing, employment, and vital support services to eligible local Veterans, service members, and their families with the goal of improving the self-sufficiency, sustainability, and quality of life.

    We appreciate your perspective and bringing more attention to the issue of transitioning service members to civilian life!

  • http://blogvermelho.net/ SchroderEUA

    I hate the videos for another reason. The number one being, where were all that caring tearful eyed viewers (like you) of the video when these soldiers were sent to war for bogus reasons? You say they are fighting for our freedom? LOL. Thats what the government sells you. They are really there fighting for higher revenues of major corporations. Thats the fact. Haliburtin which is contracted to rebuild Iraq has earned 40 Billion dollars since the war started. Thats right 40 Billion dollars…so lots of people make lots of money of war. Meanwhile our soldiers go over there , die, lose limb, lose income at home all for what?

    You say they are there fighting for our “freedom”, that is laughable. Now dont get me wrong, Im not putting any blame on the soldiers, they are courageous indeed…but like I said, what I dont like is that people like you think that they were there for our freedom. No they werent.

    So do me a favor, wake up to reality of war and why they continually exist, especially here in the USA, where it is Money based. These videos make me sad because unless its a war like WW2, these soldiers shouldnt have even been fighting. Next time dont wait to be entertained by homecoming videos, next time don’t let politicians send them to war in the first place when not necessary…which is most of the time. Then you will really be supporting the troops.