Veterans’ Day

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.

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12 thoughts on “Veterans’ Day

  1. Well, yes indeed we have many people in many walks of life to thank, including lawyers, planters, clerics, educators, even elected officials who probably merit little respect for much else. However, I did not have to snitch on my neighbors, turn in my relatives, embrace a political movement turned religion, or a religion turned political movement, in part because of the arms borne by veterans who guaranteed that I would be safe from any number of “isms” that swept over large parts of the world.

    Lawyers, educators, preachers, business leaders, statesmen all did their part, but sometimes the swords had to be drawn, or you and I would likely have been drawn and quartered for our ideas.

    • I’m not disagreeing with a single thing you say. My issue is discomfort with the mentality, which seems a recurring theme in some quarters, that patriotism and right-thinking is somehow inseparable from bearing arms, and that going to war is praiseworthy in itself.

      You can fire a gun (or take a bullet) just as easily for a dictatorship as for a democracy, and soldiers deployed in the service of repugnant or futile doctrines have been brave, noble and resourceful.

      Here is a good thing some people are doing.
      http://www.standwithvets.org/stand-with-vets/pages/about-the-campaign

  2. “…the context tends to involve assumptions that America (whatever any individual speaker means by that) is never wrong and cannot be improved upon,…”

    A day reserved for honoring those people who for whatever reason decided to join the service does not imply that the peoplenwho sent them are never wrong – at least not in my opinion.

    I didn’t quite get exactly what it is that p’oed you about this day I guess.

    There really isn’t any way to find out what would have happened if those men and women didn’t do what they did on the battle field and I for one am glad we didn’t have to find out like so many other peoples of the world.
    If I have misread your post in any way I apologize.

    • Well, read it over again; I didn’t say the day itself “po’ed me” in any way. My annoyance, as I said above to Zeus, is with a certain point of view that hitches on to holidays like Memorial Day and Veterans Day, suggesting that America is the sum total of the wars we have fought, not all of which were nobly conceived or pursued. I don’t feel freer or safer because of what we did in Iraq. That doesn’t lessen my respect and concern for the people who served and died there. But I’ve been scolded in a public street (it was a Memorial Day parade) for saying that we should never have gone there, by a military person shouting that if I didn’t support the war I wasn’t supporting the troops. Huh? I want the men and women of our armed forces conserved for the occasions when war is really the necessary response.

      Get onto any Internet discussion where military service is involved in the topic and you see it. There was an incident near here recently in which a military retiree had picked up a passenger from a “slug line” and then drove so agressively that the passenger asked to be let out. Whether deliberately or unintentionally, the driver then struck the man with the car. News-blog comments on the story went through the roof largely over the issue of anyone suggesting that someone who had served in the Army might have done something wrong. Sample: “You freaking civilians who never served or were never spouses or kids of a soldier have no clue. You should thank a soldier, airman, seaman, or marine, and quit your damn whining. You same whiners are the Obama-loving, left-wing media, buttsucking maggots that are ruining this country.”

      The thread ran to 178 comments, many of which were in the same vein as this gem. It gets up my nose, it does.

  3. The U.S. were born from the gun, live by the gun and one day, no hurry to get there, will end by the gun; that is unless somebody charismatic enough comes up and puts the gun in it’s rightfull place: locked up in a cupboard and forgotten there unless a dire emergency occurs.
    The military is a necessary evil, we all agree about that. They are, at least in North America, volunteer professionals who chose that carreer knowing the risks involved including ruthless leaders sending them to a useless war to protect their oil investments. They nonetheless deserve respect and fair treatment…but not blind devotion.

    • I’m not allergic to guns, and have considered owning and learning to use one properly (though clearly other things have taken precedence on my life agenda). The key there is “learning to use properly.” At the moment, I’m afraid even to use the battery chainsaw I ordered last year because I do not trust myself not to cut off a finger or kneecap. What I don’t get is the national fascination with weapons as equalizers and the amount of free floating aggression that clings to the idea and ownership of weapons.

      I often sadly compare this to the case of Switzerland, which has a longstanding tradition of private gun ownership and militia training yet is hardly riddled with gun violence. But Americans aren’t Swiss and never will be, and the time that I suggested in the newspaper that militia training (of the National Guard type) be considered as a condition of eligibility to own firearms, you should have heard the howls. (I think it would do this country good to have more people trained in how to organize their neighborhood’s response in case of disaster, for example, but no one was buying it.)

      • Every Swiss citizen from 18 to 65 is a reserve soldier and has to train every year with his detachment. Their guns are army property and they have to account for how they use them. Very different the N.R.A. doctrine.

        • Exactly, and yet I hear the argument of “We might need to defend ourselves from enemies within or without” just about every time a firearms debate comes up. I have to think that just owning and knowing how to use a gun, even responsibly, could only get American citizens so far if anyone actually invaded the country or staged a coup. Without training in how to work together it would be a circus.

          We do have Emergency Response trainings in this area now, how to work as a neighborhood if something dire happens, which is a start.

  4. I get what you’re saying here … many vets I know fought in wars that had little or nothing to do with the freedom of the United States, and many fought in wars I don’t agree with and wouldn’t support. But I respect the vets themselves. That’s a job I couldn’t do, any more than I could be a policeman or a firefighter.

    My girlfriend is an ex-Marine, and she has no respect for America’s current wars, and very little respect for anyone she met in the Marines. But she still gives money every month to the VA Hospital, in support of her fellow servicewomen and servicemen. It’s quite possible to have no respect for a war or even for organized military, and still respect the people who serve. It’s a funny thing … nobody seems to question the fact that a person can despise the church and still respect a nun or priest who does good works. So why is it so confusing that a person can not support wars but still support the individuals who serve?

  5. My two random cents on this fine writing by our friend Sledpress.

    Veterans are veterans, they must be respected, Mr Rochester is right but I think we all agree. I agree with Paul’s ‘necessary evil’ concept. As for guns, one America student of mine once said:

    “Our territory is so huge and lots of people live so isolated they feel more secure with a gun.”

    American history possibly explains why so many people have a gun. Westerns movies, which so many Italians are that stupid not to understand they are somewhat historical too, explain it a bit to foreigners. I wonder why Canada hasn’t so many guns instead. Their history is different, but not that different, and their territory is huge too.

    European Union has benefited for too long from the protection of the US military (Nato), which implies that many US veterans have fought for us. Basically, we weren’t all eaten up by the Soviet Union during the Cold War thanks to the US. After the European treaty of Lisbon something is moving in the dormant field of European separate defence. It is high time.

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