11/11/2011—A Somber Veterans Day to my readers. This culture is odd when it comes to veterans. We seem either to ignore them or to sentimentalize them. There are two reasons for this.
One is that, unlike the aftermath of WWII, when most people were either veterans or were the loved ones of veterans, veterans today are a special group. Therefore they can be used as support for certain kinds of issues or policies. So, Veterans Day can be a day to support American foreign policy or lobby for increased benefits for combat. In earlier times, when no group could readily “claim” veteran status for its own purposes, it was a day to reflect on the meaning of our country and the tragedy of human violence and terror.
The other reason is a related one. Because most of us are not veterans, we have little connection to war. So, it is difficult to relate in a serious way to the experience of war. This is a serious problem because it allows the culture to treat war as unreal. It is this lack of wartime experience that blithely allows torture of prisoners and drone killing and promotes unrealistic nationalism. The real experience of war is why Senator John McCain, a war hero, is a sometime critic of current policies. Perhaps it takes an Eisenhower to remind us that we cannot win a land war in Asia.
But for all that, I sense that people are grateful for the sacrifices we impose on our small group of warriors. I know I am. And I do grieve for the deaths of young people that we no longer publicly recognize for fear that it will undermine support for our wars.
So, I am at least going to try to thank a veteran today. Whatever we may think of American policy in the world, it would take a real optimist to think the world would be better off without our military.