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next week's column: Thank a Veteran


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.


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 5th, 2009 10:24 am (UTC)
Very nice!
Nov. 5th, 2009 11:26 am (UTC)
Nov. 5th, 2009 12:20 pm (UTC)
"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."

You're rather further right than me, Mark.

But this point always makes me sick. I mean a couple of years ago we had anarchists desecrate Winston Churchill's statue during riots.

Personally I'd have put those brave people up on a plinth opposite England's 3rd greatest hero (after myself and Arthur of course).

Well their impaled severed heads that is.

March against a war if you wish, but call soldiers\policemen some of the names you hear these 'heroes' call them. Ah, cowards, the lot of them.
Nov. 6th, 2009 03:34 am (UTC)
It's so strange to me that I'm a centrist in all of middle America, yet on the right everywhere else.

I'm with you on the impaled heads; without people like those from Churchill's era, those vandals wouldn't have the right to raise their voices in complaint, let alone go out and start protests.
Nov. 6th, 2009 08:28 am (UTC)
"It's so strange to me that I'm a centrist in all of middle America, yet on the right everywhere else."

I doubt you're on the right in the deep south! :D

"I'm with you on the impaled heads; without people like those from Churchill's era, those vandals wouldn't have the right to raise their voices in complaint, let alone go out and start protests."

It wasn't even a protest which I'm meh on but it should be allowed, it was one of those G9 riots. You know, where they tear businesses apart, desecrate national momuments etc.

And then the unwashed pricks complain the police are heavy-handed, jesus.
Nov. 8th, 2009 09:01 am (UTC)
Actually, I was including the deep south! Most people on America's east and west coasts think everything in between consists of Chicago.

As far as I'm concerned, when a crowd starts damaging someone else's property they've earned the right to be treated, collectively, as criminals.
Nov. 8th, 2009 09:37 am (UTC)
Wouldn't argue with that.
Nov. 5th, 2009 12:22 pm (UTC)
This was well-written and thought-provoking.
Nov. 6th, 2009 03:36 am (UTC)
Thanks much. Sometimes I get a headache from provoking so much thought, but I keep jumping into it anyway ...
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 6th, 2009 03:36 am (UTC)
Thanks, I appreciate it!
Nov. 6th, 2009 05:54 pm (UTC)
I'm still unsure that, as time-tested as it might be, programming people to be part of a collective is the best way to defend our country. Nonetheless, I still have a lot of respect for the people who are doing a dirty and sometimes necessary job that I know I couldn't do.
Nov. 8th, 2009 08:58 am (UTC)
Sorry I'm so late getting back to you -- it's been a rough weekend and I've lost track of where I stand on the internet.

It's a strange thing, about the American way of training military recruits. The old drill sergeant thing is exactly why I didn't join up, back when I was a die-hard liberal teenager (oh yes I was!) I still don't think I would have handled it well, but as you say, it is time tested.

The odd thing is that I've taken every opportunity since then to meet as many armed forces personnel as possible, and as a group they're highly individualistic go-getters with a great ability to think on their feet. No programmed collectives there! I'm sure there are some who come out that way, but on the whole the "break them down and build them back up" thing seems to really work in building character. And if they all seem to come out of it as patriotic America-lovers, well -- they've been to places where they've seen the alternative.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )

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