I got this picture from Wikipedia. The caption reads, “Joseph Ambrose, an 86-year-old World War I veteran, attends the dedication day parade for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1982, holding the flag that covered the casket of his son, who was killed in the Korean War.” This is not just how I think about Veterans Day; it is how I think our country should think about it. Let us honor veterans but let us also regret that we have them.
In most countries, today is Armistice Day: it marks the armistice that ended World War I in 1918. It is also referred to as the more appropriate Remembrance Day. It is a day to remember those who have died in our wars. It is a solemn occasion. And it should be. Even the “good” war, World War II, should not be looked back on as a great adventure. It was a tragedy for the world. Over 60 million people were killed in that war. And for what? A bad economy that allowed a megalomaniac to gain power in Germany?
It’s my opinion, based upon nothing but a fair insight into human nature, that most people just want to live their ordinary lives with their families and friends and the occasional barbecue and backyard party. And that’s as true of people in the army as anywhere else. I put the number at 95%. It’s that 5% of the population that fucks everything up. And I’m not just talking about Hitler here. Why did we started the Iraq War? It certainly had nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction—that was just a cover. And I don’t think it had to do with oil either, but that doubtless played some role. I think it was just another example of a small group of men who thought it would be super keen to take out big bad Saddam Hussein.
In the United States, of course, we celebrate Veterans Day. The idea of it is not bad. We need to honor our veterans, although I think better than a single day would be an everyday approach to providing them their earned benefits. But it seems that Veterans Day to most people is just another day to celebrate what a kick ass country the United States is. Except because it references veterans, there is more explicit jingoism. To most people, it is a time to celebrate the fact that the United States spends 46% of what all the 171 countries of the world spend on military. It ought to be our great national shame, especially when even the Democrats want to cut food stamps for the poor.
But back to that picture. That’s how we should think of Veterans Day: an old veteran from one of our many useless wars with a symbol of his son who died in another of our useless wars. To call the wars useless is not to disrespect the veterans. It is no disrespect to Achilles and Hector to note that the Trojan War was useless and tragic. To see wars clearly is a reminder of what a precious thing life is and how we should value it just as much before the war as after it.
Have a safe and thoughtful Veterans Day.