Monday, November 11, 2013

On Veteran's Day

Veterans Day.  Another “holiday” where Americans take the opportunity to mouth platitudes like “Freedom isn’t free,” inferring that those men and women still living who fought upon any battlefield to which our government exported them were performing a vital service  without which life as we enjoy it would have ceased to exist; a thinly veiled declaration that nefarious forces all over the globe are plotting to attack and destroy OUR "freedom," so someone needs to be the advance guard that takes death and destruction to THOSE folks before they can inflict it on us (never mind that the continental United States has not been attacked by another country's armed forces for several generations.)    But let's give ourselves another excuse to affirm that violence is the solution to any ideological conflict between nations, tribes, ethnic groups, races…and that those we send forth to engage in that violence deserve honor, thanks, and glory (two or three days a year…)

I have nothing against America’s veterans.  It is not THEY who create or choose the conflicts into which they are shipped.  And when they return home from service on our battlefields du jour,   they get a pretty damn raw deal.  It’s so easy to say, “Thanks, veterans!”  but not so easy to demonstrate our gratitude, with things like proper medical care, housing, education, job placement…hell, even three decent meals a day—once they’re back on American soil.  Damaged goods, but trying to scratch out a living and make ends meet like every other American.  But god forbid we should confer upon them some kind of "entitlement" to help level the playing field for them after we have wrung out of them the best of their efforts and energy for purposes of "purchasing" our freedom.  Yeah.  That's the thanks they get...

So, not taking anything away from veterans who do a difficult job and get little reward for their trouble, holidays such as this one bother me.  A lot.  Particularly Veterans day, because it started out as a celebration of PEACE.  Not a clap on the back and a raised glass to war.

World War One was called the “Great War.”  The War to End All Wars. Europeans, used to fighting,  had been involved in military conflicts with each other for centuries.  But by the end of the first decade of the 20th century, they had developed just enough of “modern” warfare capabilities to create a volume and variety of carnage never previously experienced.  Chemical weapons, machine guns, tanks and newfangled flying machines combined to shape violence so massive, so destructive, that Europe staggered from the effects.  One of the war’s most epic battles, the Battle of the Somme, lasted 4 ½ months and produced over 1,000,000 dead or wounded.  One.  Million.   Casualties.  It’s beyond comprehension.

When that war finally ended, when the peace papers were signed—on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month—Europeans  were so heartily sick of war that they celebrated a holiday on the signing of the peace treaty.   Armistice Day.  The end of the War to End All Wars. 

But human beings don’t DO peace.  We do war. Less than 25 years after the Armistice at Compiegne that ended the Great War, we were at it again--in a truly global conflict that made the War to End All Wars pale in comparison.   It became gravely evident that we had no intention of “ending all wars.” Armistice Day no longer made any sense.  So it morphed into “Veterans Day.”  A day to honor all who have served in all wars.  For Americans:   WWII.   Korea.   Viet Nam.   Desert Storm.   Afghanistan.   Iraq.  And dozens of other unofficial actions around and in between.  All involving plenty of death and destruction.  All conducted far away from our home shores. 

Somehow, it has seemed an easy leap from "honoring" veterans to today’s jingoistic declarations vis a vis the price of freedom and how it’s any good American’s solemn duty to stand behind (and push?) those we delegate to send into harm’s way.  (Rather than tackle any of that scary freedom-defending ourselves.)  There's something so wrong about celebrating anything associated with the act of human beings facing off to destroy each other.  What's to celebrate here?  Hatred?  Dominance? Intimidation?  Fear?  We've combined all that negative passion with Mr. and Mrs. America's well-protected cluelessness about the real costs of war, and turned it into a holiday.  Pardon me if I don't feel like queuing up to join the party.   

The only possible cause for a celebration in any way associated with war would be if we could end it.  Permanently.  Oddly enough, the original intention of the Armistice Day holiday.  It's impossible to erase the violence that has erupted since.  But we could dedicate ourselves to preventing future conflicts.  And THAT would be something to celebrate.  

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