This isn’t a holiday that gets as much play as some others, but it’s unquestionably worth celebrating nevertheless. And that goes double when we’re still embroiled in one war which recently achieved the dubious honor of becoming our chronologically longest-running war (Afghanistan), and we’ve just “finished” perhaps the least-necessary and most ill-considered war in our nation’s history: Iraq. Oh, and by “finished,” of course I mean “we still have 50,000 troops there, and many more contractors, adding up to more than the entire population of Hackensack, NJ or Cupertino, CA – home of Apple Computer.” I only wish my mother had been willing to accept such a definition of “finished” when I was a kid and the subject was eating my peas.
The point is: our military has borne more in the last ten years as any military in our nation’s history. True, we’ve not had as many casualties, but that’s largely due to both the type of warfare we’re currently engaged in (compared to the type we were engaged in during WWII or even Vietnam), and perhaps even more, to the advances in medical technology and knowledge that can be deployed in field hospitals or even simply on the field of battle itself. The kind of blow/explosion/wound that used to cause death now can be “saved” – resulting in one less tick-mark in the “KIA” column…but one more in the “wounded” column. And in many cases, those wounds are head-wounds: concussions, PTSD, various other serious, debilitating injuries that don’t appear too bad – or don’t appear at all – to a quick visual inspection by a nonprofessional like you or me. We’ve got a whole new generation of veterans coming home now that are going to need care, many of them, for the rest of their lives. All of them deserve as many breaks as this country can give them, as a way of repaying their service. And yes, I believe we owe such gratitude to other people who serve our country too, like our teachers. But today I’m focusing on the soldiers, because today is Veterans Day.
My own personal belief is that the best way we can honor our veterans is by making sure that we never send them into harm’s way unless it’s absolutely necessary. Not for vague and murky reasons about “regional stability” somewhere halfway around the globe, and definitely not without a full airing of why sending them IS absolutely necessary. But soldiers don’t get a choice of where or when they’re sent, and in truth, we don’t really, either. Except for our ability to vote every couple of years, it’s the decision of congress (and lately, increasingly, the President) to make the call to commit troops to battle. So in the absence of any direct ability to have a say in when it’s completely necessary to send troops, I would respectfully like to urge people to consider supporting a group like Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. They work unceasingly on capitol hill for the rights and the health of veterans, and their founder and executive director, Paul Rieckhoff, is a frequent guest on Rachel Maddow’s show (not to mention her friend). In truth, most veterans’ organizations that have been around for some time do excellent work, although it always behooves you to check into any organization before sending them money. Most would be fine choices to support today – or any day. If you’re not in a position to contribute money, sign up for IAVA’s occasional action alerts, where you can join petitions to congress to vote in favor of issues like the recent “new GI bill” or funding of the VA.
Thank you for indulging me today on this topic, and Happy Veterans Day again. I want to close by introducing you to one of my personal heroes, a veteran. I don’t have a lot of heroes, and even fewer of them are military people: I’m just not a soldier kind of guy. But when I think of military heroes, I don’t think about guys like Schwarzkopf or Petraeus or even Colin Powell. I think of Hugh Thompson, Jr. If you already know who he is, then you’ll probably find it easy to understand why he’s a hero of mine. If not, take a minute and find out.
And last, let me offer up the only kind of bittersweet tribute to veterans that an anti-war liberal like me who loathes the nihilistic madness of war but still thinks of himself as a patriot can offer: