It’s Veterans Day. I am not a veteran so I’m not one of those being honored this day, but I am among those who desire to express my appreciation for their service. How to do that? Things have changed a lot over the years. Today used to be Armistice Day, and we celebrated the end of the war to end all wars making the world safe for democracy. It did not end all wars, but it did set into motion events that would, by the mid-twentieth century, prove the futility of wars for worldwide dominance. The cost of that enlightenment was enormous. The dead in the tens of millions whose humanity has been reduced to numbers that can only be estimated was accompanied by many more millions of lives challenged with physical and emotional wounds that never really healed. The veterans of those wars have more than earned the honor due them from a grateful nation.
Sadly, that did not end worldwide warring. War just took on new forms in new places. For America, our reasons for entering into armed conflict have become less and less clear. Politicians send troops into harm’s way for purposes that do not appear to have any clear connection to the standard shibboleths of keeping America safe or defending our freedom. Unfortunately, the ensuing national debate often ends up demonizing those who serve rather than the political leaders who engineer military engagements.
Another change has been in the nature of our armed forces themselves. The big wars of first half of the twentieth century, including Korea, were fought by draftees who did not choose to serve, and by enlistees who were often motivated by a patriotic morality. Now we are served by a professional military who have chosen to join as a career, to have a job, to get an education, for adventure, or to avoid getting into trouble.
None of that detracts from the steadfast courage of those who have served in our armed forces. Whatever their reasons, they have done their duty in the service of their nation, and for too many the cost has been high. What is the right way to say thanks? Airport greetings and welcome home dinners are nice, but often just decorations on a cardboard cake. How about if get really serious about a fully functional and efficient VA? How about if we get serious about job placement initiatives that lead to something other than stocking shelves at Wal-Mart? How about well staffed veterans’ centers on every public university campus? How about if we just learn to listen to them?