Today is Veterans’ Day. It is a day set aside for us to remember the sacrifice members of our armed forces has given in service to their country. Let me say up front that I am continually humbled and honored by that sacrifice. Yet normally these sort of holidays [Labor Day, National Teacher Appreciation Day, May Day] are at best a chance for people to post irritatingly banal nods to certain professions or at worst become opportunities for thinly veiled class commentary. It is for this reason that I especially hate Veterans’ day. There is always some Sarah Palin like political figure talking about “American Heroes” before launching into rants about the debt ceiling, Obama’s Birth Certificate or welfare. Veterans’ are increasingly used as props to increase Patriotic furor or create political cover.
Today President Obama himself will talk about “our brave women and men in uniform” and how much they do to keep us safe. He will make some mention of our duty to them but it will not come with increased funding for veterans benefits or legislation to allow army field medics to be considered qualified paramedics upon returning home. At the same time President Obama will be actively contributing to the American people’s disengagement with the military. Obama declared victory in Iraq before all of our troops left and rarely, if ever, talks about that theatre. He hopes that out of sight is out of mind and we will forget about Iraq, we will forget to ask what we role we have in country moving forward, we will forget to ask was it worth it, we will forget to ask who will be held accountable for the lives lost, we will forget to ask if drone strikes actually do anything to reduce troop causalities. He hopes the same will happen for Afghanistan and he is not alone in his desires. The entire political establishment has been systematically trying to remove public opinion as a factor in military operations. War Weariness, after 10 years of open warfare, is increasingly becoming a non-factor in U.S foreign relations.
Granted, we were weary of another open ended engagement in Syria but when was the last time you heard anything about the withdrawal in Afghanistan? When was the last time he saw a report on the news about the readiness of the Afghan military? Do you know how many troops we have in Iraq and Afghanistan? Even as I write this I know I could not sufficiently answer those questions. If you are like me, your updates about the wars come from a loving military mother or husband or wife for whom out of sight is not out of mind. For the millions of military families across the world who cannot forget that their daughter, father, cousin or wife is fighting thousands of miles away the American people’s disengagement from the war effort is a slap in the face that empty platitudes about “American Heroes” does nothing.
I don’t mean to undermine the day for people for whom it is incredibly important. I know many of my loved ones will be thrilled at the reminders that they are not alone in thinking about Veterans. I know many will be able to tell their stories today and that will help with the healing. I know that for some of us, Veterans’ Day will remind us that we are still at war. Yet I want to challenge those of us who say the words “American Heroes” to challenge themselves to think critically about not only what makes someone a hero but how a just society should treat its heroes when they come home.
Having grown up in Falcon, Colorado outside of several military institutions I know my share of military families. I have several friends and families members who have served this nation with honor and distinction. I also know a lot of kids who had no other viable choices. Who joined to pay for college or because it is what they thought they were supposed to do. So I don’t think enlisting makes you a hero. Just like taking a job as a teacher doesn’t mean you are doing something noble, collecting a paycheck is not noble.
I will say, like I said to my dear friend Iain who is fighting in a war as I write this, that the commitment to something greater and willingness to give “the last full measure” of devotion to a nation is a truly heroic act. I don’t agree with why my friend was sent to a third world country halfway around the world. I don’t think he was sent there to keep me safe and I don’t think his sacrifice or those of his comrades will be deemed worth it in the end. Yet I do believe that his reasons for going, his unerring belief in civic duty, a desire to serve his county and his commitment to the wellbeing and safety of both his soldiers and the Afghans he helps train is beyond admirable. This nation is built on off the blood, sweat and tears of women and men like him. His willingness to put his life on line for those beliefs day in and day out is heroic beyond anything I’ve ever been asked or willing to do. Like Aristotle said, we are what we habitually do, and so I believe that this is what makes my friend an American Hero.
I want to honor his actions by making sure that his family knows that his sacrifice does not go unnoticed. I will make sure that his wife knows that she too is loved and her sacrifice is also cherished by at least one fellow citizen. I want to honor his continual sacrifice by insuring that he will not come home to nation that gives him a cold shoulder. That the skills he learned at war will be valued when he comes home. I want him to come home to nation that knows that even heroes may need space and time to heal. Even brave American Heroes needs shoulders to cry on, support groups, therapy or just a hug.
Above all, I want to use Veterans’ Day to figure out what I can do to ensure that America remains a country deserving of his past, present and future sacrifices. I hope those of us for whom out of sight might often be out of mind to do the same.
Please share what you will do to honor the sacrifices of veterans or to insure that America lives up to their sacrifice.