We get so tied up in our political arguments about the military: where to send it, how much to fund it, whether it needs to be larger or smaller, whether or when it’s a force for good or evil in the world. We give our military really neat toys, too: smart bombs, night vision, computers my grandkids couldn’t break, missiles so accurate they could zoom into Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s office and give him a super wedgie without even pausing to spell his name right.
Sometimes we forget that no matter how technologically advanced the US Armed Forces may become, they still do and always will depend on young men and women putting boot to ground.
Despite the number of times they’ve pulled this planet’s collective fat out of the fire in various ways, there are only two days officially set aside to pay tribute to the members of America’s armed forces (three, if you include Independence Day): Memorial Day, for those who died in the service of their country (and often the world), and Veteran’s Day, for those who thankfully survived that service.
Veteran’s Day was originally Armistice Day, designed to remember the moment when a cease fire went into effect to end World War I, the “Great War” – as if there was such a thing as a great war. Hostilities ceased at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, and we can only hope they didn’t delay the war’s end for the sake of a memorable date.
It was the end of the “war to end all wars” … we’ll pause now for an ironic scoff.
With their normal quick reaction, the United States Congress officially recognized the 1918 armistice with a resolution, which they passed in 1926. By that time, 27 of the states had already declared November 11 a legal holiday; after World War 2 and the Korean War, Congress amended the holiday to honor all Veterans. So, there you are.
Many people, in America and elsewhere, rail against American servicemen with the freedom of speech they get because of the American serviceman. I’ve always found that odd. They’re not villains, nor or they by nature heroes. They’re just people, usually young people who often take off that uniform for the last time while others their age are still in college.
Do they have the most dangerous job in the world? Not always. Through much of our history, recruits took their basic training in times of peace, not knowing if a year later they’d be battling their way through the streets of some far off country they’ve never heard of. In times of peace some jobs seem more dangerous: Miner, firefighter, police officer, deep sea fisherman.
But it says something that when things go seriously wrong, our government takes those miners, firefighters, cops and fishermen away from their jobs and thrusts them into the kind of harm’s way that few civilians can ever imagine. There are few jobs – not even in law enforcement – where someone tries to shoot you or blow you up on a daily basis. There are few jobs where you’re told to shoot the bad guys and not the civilians and oh, by the way, the bad guys are dressing just like the civilians and are using them as human shields.
There are few jobs so critical for the survival of freedom, and yet so spit upon by those who are made free.
They’re not always saints. They curse, and smoke, and drink, and gripe, just like anyone would after being dropped into a desert sandstorm with temperatures so high the camels are begging for water. Every once in a great while one of them does something really bad, so bad that their fellow servicemen are horrified not only by the act itself, but by the knowledge that some who know no better will paint everyone in uniform with that same brush of evil.
The vast majority serve with honor and integrity. Most have no desire to take a life, but if the bad guy shows and their brothers and sisters are threatened they’ll open up with every weapon available. Most don’t want a war, but if another unit is in harms way they want to be there too, because that’s how you get the job done.
Most just want to get home, but if that job’s not done many sign on the dotted line again, and go right back into harm’s way. They do it for their fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines. They do it for the people they’re sent to protect. They do it because it’s the right thing to do.
And, ultimately, they do it for you and me: the people back in the states who yell at the TV news from our easy chairs, and gripe when the coffee is three degrees too cool, and call the police when our neighbors start up their leaf blowers at 8 a.m. on a Saturday.
We armchair quarterbacks don’t know what it’s like over there, but we cuss and discuss foreign affairs and far off wars with the freedom of speech earned by the blood of the people our politicians move around like little chess pieces.
Then, when that last battle for them is over, they’re expected to just drop right back into normal society, as if warfare was somehow not a life changing experience -- whether they returned with wounds on the outside or inside.
We owe these people everything. The Founding Fathers who dedicated their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor knew they were laying it all on the back of the guy with the gun, who might someday have to go fight and die to preserve what so many despots across the world have tried to take away so many times: Liberty.
To paraphrase the old saying, if you can read this, thank a teacher; if you can read and write without restriction, thank a Veteran.