I’m probably going to piss some people off.
This may not be the day I should post this, but then, it’s the day when it’s on my mind, because of the e-mails, bumper stickers and so on that advise me “If you love your freedoms — thank a veteran.” Which veteran? Deployed where, and by whom?
The context tends to involve assumptions that America (whatever any individual speaker means by that) is never wrong and cannot be improved upon, and that no one should question the opinions of veterans (except, possibly, those who go to war and end by opposing wars), or question militaristic thinking in general.
We had a little bout of this in the recent Congressional election when the incumbent, an admitted sleazebag, cited his opponent’s lack of a public service record. The challenger ballyhooed this as a denigration of the “public service” rendered by the military, since he had reached the rank of Colonel before retiring and entering politics; it was an obvious, manipulative misconstruction of a badly phrased but good point (people who have spent their lives in a top-down hierarchy may not be the best choice for elected offices in which everything is about dealmaking, for better or worse). But tons of people ate it up (though not enough to get the guy elected). Don’t badmouth our troops. Bad bad bad.
The one thing I do not lack is respect for the sacrifices of combat veterans. Possibly my government does, since only after a muckraking expose in the Washington Post was there any change in a pattern of lackadaisical adminstration and appalling living conditions affecting seriously damaged Iraq veterans at what should be the country’s most prestigious military hospital. Some of these were people to whom life offered few options other than military service. Others were people who chose that service when they could have taken many other paths. Your heart breaks, either way.
I do get a little testy when people suggest that I am free, whatever any individual speaker means by that, only because someone else was willing to place his life on the line, or take those of others. It is a given that we depend, without thinking about it from day to day, on military patrols around our coasts, National Guardsmen who take charge when the shit hits the fan at home, and on the security of having a body of trained fighters at all levels who stand ready to cover us from things worse and more deliberate than a rising river.
But my freedoms? I thank a lot of people for those. I thank lawyers, the people everyone loves to hate, who take unpopular causes to court and wring out a precedent that says I can’t be prevented from doing this, or compelled to do that. I thank lawmakers, whom everyone hates even more, who in between mopping the brow of well heeled industry and professional groups sometimes manage to safeguard my rights. I thank the people with the guts to act out (in my youth people called them Commie agitators and worse), the Margaret Sangers and Rosa Parkses of the world who put their bare selves on another kind of line because freedoms were being denied in the Land Of The Free ™. I thank journalists who take risks and the editors who pay them.
I thank people who’ve been dead for centuries, the architects of English Civil Law (the basis of America’s laws) and the Enlightenment philosophers of social institutions — Locke, Paine, people whose work usually puts me in a trance, but whose lively disputes about the requirements of a civil society informed the Constitution and the country we have today.
This day is for veterans, and in walking distance from me you can find acre upon acre of tombstones bearing their names. My father played his horn for funerals in that cemetery for many years. My former husband’s ashes are in a niche at the top of its all-but-highest hill. You will not find me lacking in respect. When I enter that ground, so long as I can, I come on my two feet, not on a tour bus ticking off the names of shrines.
I just want people to remember that freedom is a thing of ideas, and that what emerges from combat is only as good as the reasons the combatants were fighting.