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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring Veterans Day and an Atlanta documentary

Every week, I shine the spotlight on some of the best storytelling in the business and offer my comments. “3 Great Stories of the Week” will post every Monday at 8 AM.

I generally try to avoid using this space to promote the work of my colleagues at WXIA-TV in Atlanta. It would almost be too easy; the reporters at my station constantly impress me with their thought-provoking and emotional work.

This week I made an exception.

One of the “3 Great Stories” of the week is a long-form documentary that ran on our station on Friday. We tackled a harrowing topic in a big way, and our work made a tangible impact.

But first, I found myself divided on two terrific stories involving veterans — stories that would seem to contrast each other in terms of mentality.

Help veterans by taking them off the pedestal (11/10/13, The Atlantic): Veterans Day brings with it a cavalcade of celebrations, ceremonies, and commemorations of those who served in the U.S. military. It also typically brings, from a storytelling standpoint, reflexive pieces that unquestionably honor those who risk their lives in our country’s name.

Rarely does one find a story that questions that mindset — and does so with thought-provoking effectiveness.

But that’s what Alex Horton, a one-time infantryman in Iraq, does here.

Horton makes a compelling argument that, by putting veterans on a pedestal, our society is unintentionally hindering them. We tend to view veterans, Horton says, in one-dimensional terms — either as sacrosanct heroes or risky choices to serve us in civilian life. I particularly appreciated an early paragraph where he recounts discussions with members of the Greatest Generation:

I once talked to a World War II veteran about the experience of attending college after coming home, and asked if it was jarring to sit next to those who never served. I wondered if veterans huddled together under the umbrella of mutual understanding and thought less of civilians who never shouldered a rifle. His answer was surprising. They were proud of their time in uniform, he said, but for many, the war interrupted their lives, and education was a return to normalcy. Instead of a victory lap, they were more interested in getting back on track.

Very deep stuff here … bringing complexity to what is often viewed in simpler terms.