Friday, November 11, 2011

How To Honor Veterans

My daughter has grown up in a country at war. 

I grew up in a country at war. 

My parents grew up in a country at war. 

My grandparents grew up in a country at war.

Whatever we feel about ourselves, it's not difficult to understand why there are people around the world who view the US as a warlike nation. It's one of the things we do, sending our army to Europe or Asia or Africa or South America to fight against our "enemies" or support our "friends." War has become the wallpaper of our lives, something that most of us only think about when there is particularly ghastly or encouraging news, or on special days set aside to think about war, like today, Veteran's Day.

Some of us, of course, think about war every day: those whose children or loved ones are in harm's way. How could they not? Even now, or perhaps especially now, as we prepare to disengage from Iraq and Afghanistan, it's impossible, I'm sure, not to worry about the stray bullet. The stress on those families must be incredible and what anxious joy they must feel knowing that the two longest wars in our nation's history are finally winding down. I'm sure they think all kinds of things about the wisdom of those wars or the ways in which they have been conducted, but I'm equally sure they are united in their desire to actually touch and see and hear their sons and daughters; their mothers and fathers.

Whatever you think of war in general, or the specific wars in which our nation has engaged, whether you believe that those who enlisted are brave patriots, misguided souls, or victims of the economy, there are few among us who don't appreciate the risk and sacrifice of these young men and women, nor do we want to shirk the responsibilities we have to them as they seek to re-join the civilian world, a place where they can hopefully sometimes forget about war.

This is a place where 1 in 3 male veterans between 20-24 are jobless. It's a place where nearly a million veterans are unemployed, where the unemployment rate for veterans is over 12 percent, 3 points higher than for the rest of us. And unless we turn things around fast, it's only going to get worse as an estimated 1 million more veterans return from foreign wars to rejoin the civilian workforce over the next 5 years.

This is a place in which 1 in 5 suicide victims are veterans. It's an epidemic of despair and mental illness that claims an average of 18 lives per day. Suicide prevention hotlines set up to serve veterans receive 100,000 calls per year. 

This is a place where people will boo you and try to strip you of your rights as a veteran and a citizen if they learn you are somehow not the "right kind of American."

This is a place where big banks, like Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and JP Morgan Chase will brazenly defraud you because you are a veteran and they think you're a soft target, often taking your home and sending you into bankruptcy.

This is a place where 83 percent of veterans receive no pension at all and where even that pathetic number is under threat of the budget axe, along with veteran healthcare benefits, because we don't have the political will to raise taxes on the the super wealthy, such as those very bankers who are defrauding veterans. 

This is the world we've created for our post-9/11 veterans. This is not what they fought for.

I don't feel at all good about the legacy of war we are leaving to our children, just as our parents left to us. Violence always represents failure, and this is a torch of shame we pass along. But this is a failure of politics, a failure of self-governance, and has nothing to to with our veterans who have placed themselves in service to our nation. These are our children, our mothers, and our fathers. For better or worse, we've sent them to risk their lives for us and caused their families to sacrifice for us. We must do better by them.

We don't honor veterans by glorifying war. These Americans, of all Americans, know the truth that war is horrific. No, we honor them by creating a society in which diplomacy is the highest political good. We honor them with a functioning economy and a world-class health care system. We honor them when we have social and economic justice. We honor them when we work to end war. We the people need to do these things every day, and that, more than parades and ceremonies, is how to honor veterans.

But most of all we honor veterans when we stop what we're doing to really see the wallpaper that's been hanging on our walls for generations, contemplate it, and wonder if it's time for a change.

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Centers and Circle Time said...

I can only say WOW my friend! You leave me speechless! So thoughtful and hearfelt...I am deeply moved beyond words.

Anonymous said...

In South Africa we are no longer at war and yet we have wasted Billions of Rands on the Arms Deal, that could have been used for a War on Poverty.

Anonymous said...

Excellent commentary. My daughter-in-law sent me the link and I posted it on my FB page.

Cameron said...

Tell it Brother Tom!

John Blunt said...

Yes. There was an experiment with 5 monkeys. The monkeys were placed in a room with a ladder with bananas on the top. When any monkey climbed the ladder to get a banana, the rest were doused with cold water. Soon the other monkeys began beating any monkey that tried to climb the ladder. The scientists quit the cold water, yet the monkeys continued to beat any ladder climber.

One after another the monkeys were traded for a new monkey from outside. Each time the new monkey was beaten for climbing the ladder, soon stopped trying, and joined the beating gang when the next new monkey arrived.

In the end, no monkeys with memory of the cold water were left, yet the beatings continued, and the bananas were kept off limits.

They had acquired a fixed and reasonless cultural habit of war.

If you were just one of the monkeys,no Godlike scientist, and you saw the possibility of another way, how would you convince your compatriots?

Ramsey Willis said...

Hi Tom

First, I would like to say that your blog is awesome. I love how you leave a post everyday about what you are doing in the classroom with the kids. We need more teachers like you in the world that will guide the kids on what to do and not chastise them if something is not done the way the teacher envisioned.

This post about Honoring Veterans is a great piece that deserves to be posted on a government site or in the Seattle Post or New York Times. I don't know if people realize that we have been at war that long and if they do, I don't know if they realize how veterans are really treated. You have certain companies, people, groups that decide to honor veterans everyday for their service and our freedom and you have others (you mentioned them) that treat them worse than they would their own enemies. My uncle served in the United States Air Force for 26 years and when he retired (with tons of experience in project management) he had trouble finding employment. He has 2 children that he raises on his own, is working a (pretty much) minimum wage job and is struggling to receive government benefits that people that aren't doing anything with their lives are receiving without question. It is amazing that people that are trying to do something with their lives are denied the benefits that were put in the place to help them and those that decide to sit at home and take advantage of the system receive whatever they want. How is this honoring veterans? How is this honoring what they fought for? Tom, you said it right; things need to change. The system is broken. Very good post!

My name is Ramsey Willis and I am pre-service teacher at the University of South Alabama in EDM 310. You can find out more about me on my blog and leave comments if you would like. I will definitely be back to your blog.

Thanks again for your excellent posts!


trotsky said...

The best way to honor a veteran is to stop with the trite "Thank you for your service" bullshit. There's nothing that makes me wanna hurl faster than hearing those empty words. As if that phrase is going to stop the nightmares and the survivor guilt. As if those words are going to provide a minimal quality of life for those with traumatic brain injury who have been discarded by the military which refuses to acknowledge the damage that war does.

As if those 5 petty empty words can serve to cleanse the collective guilt of a people who refused to stand up for what America should represent and instead cowered, and continue to cower, in the face of arrogance, ignorance, and criminality on a massive scale, allowing this country to become a Potemkin democracy.

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