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War has been an integral part of human history since time immemorial. While advanced weaponry and increased logistical capabilities have turned warfare into an elevated, less visible state, it still produces a huge number of veterans who face issues upon returning from war. Though the conversation around veterans and their struggles has become more common in the modern era, veterans in the 18th century had to deal with the same issues and often issues much worse than modern veterans. 

There Is More Awareness For Veterans Today

The 18th century saw a massive shift in how militaries around the world were formed and even how they fought wars. The introduction of gunpowder on a wide scale saw the rise of the age of rifles, which in turn led military leaders to change their organizational approach. Instead of drafting any able-bodied citizen into a fighting force, a tactically-minded infantry was trained under efficient leadership, essentially creating the modern professional armies that we see today.

 

However, with this rise of a more professional battlefield coupled with advanced firepower came more veterans, many of whom had suffered serious injuries in battle. Medical advances in the 18th century increased survival rates on the field of battle significantly. Inventions like the screw tourniquet which helped to control bleeding and assist in amputations and locked forceps used for the removal of musket balls helped battlefield surgeons keep many soldiers alive from wounds that would have killed them in earlier wars. The resulting veterans often suffered from lifelong injuries that prevented them from obtaining well-paying jobs, and many faded into history with little fanfare.

 

Today, veterans are more of a focal point in the national discussion. Veterans and their families now have dedicated social programs to assist in everything from healthcare to career and educational counseling in an effort to help reintegrate into civilian life after participating in a war. Military social workers work with veterans to help navigate their resources, assist in getting mental health counseling and therapy, and overall advocating for veterans to improve their lives.

Challenges After Service

War was not exactly uncommon during the 18th century, and those who came home from these wars often did so with little opportunity for work. The war of the Austrian Succession, the Seven Years War, and the War of American Independence all happened essentially back to back during the 18th century, producing thousands of veterans from each and from essentially all the same combatants.

 

These wars all saw the rise of both the musket and improved battlefield medicine. Thousands of soldiers from around the world who would have died from imbedded shrapnel or a poorly executed amputation instead went home with gruesome scars, but alive. Injuries sustained in these wars coupled with the trauma of seeing the horrors of war left many of these veterans homeless.

 

There was little advocacy work being done for veterans of the 18th century in what would become the United States, but soon after during the 19th century, veterans began forming local organizations upon returning from war. These organizations functioned to fight for veteran’s rights and to seek additional compensation for sacrifices they had made while others stayed home to earn higher wages. These efforts eventually led to the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, more commonly known as the G.I. Bill, which provided WWII veterans with housing, education funding, and unemployment insurance.

 

Today veterans face many of the same issues that veterans of the 18th and 19th centuries faced. Nearly 8% of the homeless population in the United States are military veterans, many of whom suffer from mental health and addiction issues. Though Veteran’s Affairs hospitals exist to help these modern veterans, many VA hospitals have long waiting lists for treatment. When it comes to opportunities for employment, modern US veterans can rely on many different organizations including the US Postal Service to provide access to employment as they give preference over other applicants in light of their military service.

Changing Opportunities

After the bloody wars of the 18th century, veterans were often left with few resources to turn to once they returned to their civilian life. The communities that veterans left sometimes became the sites of battles, which resulted in permanent change not only to the landscape and structures but to the people who lived there as well. Early battles drastically altered the US landscape and effectively shaped much of the country’s political and economic field at the expense of these veterans.

 

However, not all of the changes brought about by 18th-century wars had ultimately terrible outcomes. It is speculated that veterans from New England who fought in the imperial wars of the 18th century essentially changed Boston into a modern urban landscape. With a surplus of out of work veterans, orphaned children, and widowed women, Boston’s class structure was changed in a way that resulted in a new class consciousness. This new class consciousness, in turn, helped to bring around the Revolution, making the US what it is today.

 

Today, it is unlikely that entire cities are changed in a significant way by wars. Where 18th-century wars could empty towns and cities of entire generations of able-bodied men, the call for manpower within the military is significantly reduced in the modern era. For many, military service is now a viable career option as opposed to something that they enter out of a sense of duty or as a necessity for survival.

 

Veterans in the 18th-century regularly returned wounded and poor, only to find that the places that they left held no opportunities for them and didn’t have any way to support them. In the modern era, there are many programs and safety nets put into place to try and provide help to returning war veterans, though many of the problems of the 18th century persist today.

 

About the Author:
Frankie Wallace contributes to a wide variety of blogs and writes about many different topics, including politics and the environment. 
Wallace currently resides in Boise, Idaho and is a recent graduate of the University of Montana.