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.