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Monday, November 12, 2007

Veterans Day

Well, another Veteran's Day has come and gone. As a vet myself, I'm a bit ambivalently about this holiday, to tell you the honest truth.

On one hand, it's dammed nice to be remembered; on the other hand, well, it sure would be nice to be remembered the other 364 days out of the year.

Oh, don't get me wrong here, I'm not an ungrateful bastard, really I'm not. And I'm not saying that the average American doesn't at least think of those who have served, or are serving, once in a while. But, truthfully, the average American is pretty well insulated from the current conflict. Oh sure, if you watch the news or read the paper you can't miss the daily body counts, or the latest spectacular cell phone video of an IED taking out a Hummer, or the heartwarming reunion, or the determined amputee learning to walk again - but it's hardly the top story of the news hour, or rarely above the fold. You might catch the latest edgy show like "Band of Bloggers," which the History Channel is using to boost it's ratings. You might see the occasional peace protest, but even those are halfhearted these days. There just doesn't seem to be much passion in America regarding this conflict, one way or the other. On average, to me, people seem resigned, resigned to this war, and resigned to wait until January 2009. Maybe this is because there also doesn't seem to be much in the way of sacrifice demanded of the average American. There are no war bonds, no scrap metal drives, no rationing, no recruiting posters (Uncle Sam needs you!), no draft, no Rosy the Riveter. Oh sure, gas prices are higher. And those yellow-ribbon magnets are everywhere, which frankly I don't get at all. The original song by Tony Orlando, Tie A Yellow Ribbon Around The Old Oak Tree, was about a guy getting out of prison, not coming home from war. And even if we allow that the yellow ribbon means something else now, Americans can't even muster up enough passion to tie their own bows and instead it's just easier to buy the Chinese-made magnetic facsimile. And even that minor effort is becoming diluted as other groups jump on the magnetic bandwagon, I've seen pink ones for breast cancer awareness, and blue ones for animals rights, and a rainbow one for gay pride.

Frankly, this war is just too dammed easy. That's right, easy. Easy to forget, easy to ignore.

And Veterans Day makes it a little easier. Yesterday, it was easy for our leaders to attend solemn ceremonies. It was easy for the President to lay a wreath on on the Tomb of the Unknowns and talk about brave sacrifice. Yesterday, it was easy for politicians to get their faces on TV, while making speeches about honor, duty, and selfless dedication - and then afterward attend a barbecue or potluck at the local VFW in order to score a few more points. It was easy for the average American to sit on the sidewalk yesterday and cheer the Veterans Day Parade and wave those little flags and drink beer from plastic cups and feel like they'd done their duty.

But what happens today?

Today, those politicians are right back to squabbling and arguing and doing nothing to improve Veteran's health care, or to adequately fund the VA, or to get homeless vets off the street. Today Congress will go back to fact finding, and their bickering committees, and their endless rhetoric, and their failure to hold this administration accountable - and the war will still go on. Today Senators and Representatives will conveniently forget the promises they made yesterday, and today troops will still not have the funding or the equipment that they need. Today the VA waiting rooms will be clogged with veterans, waiting for care. Today hundreds of us will still be waiting for our compensation and pension claims to process, and we'll probably be waiting tomorrow too. Today the rats will still scamper through the walls at Walter Reed and the paint will still be peeling (and ask yourself a question, if the conditions at Walter Reed, the Army's premier medical facility, are substandard - just what exactly are the conditions like in other, smaller, more obscure medical facilities today? The ones that Senators don't go to for free health care?). Today many of those little flags that people waved yesterday will end up in dumpsters or under cars seats, forgotten.

As I said above, I'm ambivalent about Veterans Day. I think it's a good thing that we stop once in while and remember those who fought for our freedoms, I do. I'm grateful to those who express their sincere thanks for my service, I truly am. But I also see it as a way for the average American to escape from thinking about the realities of war for the rest of the year - but maybe, just maybe, that's a good thing. After all, most of us served so that Americans could go on about their lives. Maybe the best way to honor veterans is for Americans to live their lives without having to think about war, maybe that's why I did it. I really don't know.

But, I do know this, I have nothing but contempt for those politicians who use Veterans Day to grandstand and further their own images and make empty promises to both veterans and the American people. If those who made the speeches yesterday truly want to thank veterans for their service and sacrifice - they'll live up to those promises today.

11 comments:

  1. Hmm. Food for thought.

    I'm reminded of that line from Independence Day - "If you want to impress me, then get a job."

    Politicians, if you want to impress me, then take care of my brothers and sisters in arms instead of leaving them hanging.

    Like Jim, I don't care about being "recognized" for my service (although I certainly appreciate it when someone makes the effort to do so - thanks, Tania!), but I do care, and care deeply, that my shippies aren't being taken care of when they return from a war zone. That is simply unacceptable.

    And politicians that use veterans like some sort of PR prop just need to be deployed to a hot zone, immediately. With substandard armor and squadmates who know who they are and what they've done.

    Justice, baby, sweet justice.

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  2. I think in my case (and therefore probably the case of at least a few other people in the U.S.), I'm just not really sure what to do. I didn't vote for him either time, I did help vote in the Democratic Congress that was supposed to fix everything and now they're not doing it ... so, what now?

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  3. MWT,

    You're not alone, I feel almost exactly the same way, and I suspect that we are in the majority.

    This is why I feel the way I do this weekend. I'm a bit embarrassed when people thank me for my service, I accept those thanks in the spirit offered and because most Americans appear to be truly grateful for their military this time around - and I'm very grateful for that. It's the politicians I cannot abide, saying thanks only to win votes and curry favor. Or as Janiece said, using vets like some sort of PR prop.

    As to what we do now? I don't know either, MWT. I did the same as you, I voted to throw the bastards out. But it seems, as usual, the Democrats are all wind, shit, and excitement. They talked a big game, but so far they've knuckled under to the White House on every major issue. Every one. They've do nothing that I can see. More of the same, more of the same. It's just so dammed depressing sometimes.

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  4. Jim, as usual, all good points.

    Well, my motives/reasoning for posting the note here and over on Making Light are something like this:

    1) Some things are worth fighting for;

    2) Some people have volunteered to be on hand when fighting needs done;

    3) Even though I may not always agree with the reasons that people are being sent to fight, I respect their willingness and decision to serve;

    4) I'm only able to state these opinions and blather on because in the past soldiers were willing to take up arms in defense of something worthy;

    5) Therefore, I better remember to say thank you, especially on Remembrance Day.

    Me, I'm one of those crazy people that thinks we need a draft, men and women, with deferments really damned hard to get. You want to get people interested in the war, you have to make it personal. Then we'd get some action on resolving the situation.

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  5. Tania, I very much agree with your points. And like I said in the post and the comment above, I very much appreciate the thanks of people like you. I truly do - even if it embarrasses me a little bit (and I think that's a good thing, when vets begin to demand thanks, well, that's when things turn ugly).

    The fact that people like you go out of your way to thank people like me, in public and sincerely, means a lot to me, and to everyone else who's worn the uniform.

    And that's what I find so frustrating, that the folks we send to Juneau and DC seem to think that the only the military is good for is to line their own pockets (and how true is that in Alaska lately?) and as a PR Prop to further their own agendas.

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  6. I feel like burning the flag when politicians insist on wrapping themselves in it. Janiece can send them to a war zone, I'll just institute my own little trial by fire.

    I totally agree with you on the politicians. And I can't believe I'm about to say something nice about Sarah Palin...

    I do like how she's not yet used her son's enlistment as a tool. It'll happen, I don't doubt, but until then, I'm shocked and impressed.

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  7. I think at this point I'm just waiting for someone to start the revolution and assign me something to do.

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  8. MWT, you kill me.

    If I were running the revolution, I'd put you in charge of organizing the fish infantry.

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  9. Fish infantry! Aye aye sir!

    *dashes off to yell orders at schools of tuna*

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  10. If they're yellowfin, tell them to report to my grill - and bring butter.

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  11. I thought about this all through that day, and the honest to god truth of the matter is this:

    This is a couch potato generation.

    I'm on the old end of it, and while I can step away from it, I'm not immune. Too often the lowest common denominator is swayed by a five second sound bite. Too often they mistake that for independent thought.

    And you wonder why we're left with choosing the least of all weasels.

    Unplug them, and these kids actually develop something approximating vision. It might take a cattleprod to make it turn into forward momentum, but at least once they're poked, you have a decent chance they might be headed in the right direction.

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