Just attended a sparsely attended Veteran’s day service in my hometown. One of the hosts from the VFW, a stout man and Vietnam vet took a moment to harangue those who did make it about those who didn’t. Nearly everyone there was a veteran or close relative of a veteran. “It’s sad that so few made it out when we are in the middle of war,” he said. His son was a classmate of mine and is scheduled to return from his third tour in Iraq in the next two months.
It seems difficult to square the lack of enthusiasm for Veteran’s day festivities with the near saintly-status Americans routinely give our soldiers. But we treat our armed servicemen and women like a different species of American. There are military families, who serve our country from one generation to the next. And then there are the rest of us who fight terrorism by shopping in big box stores and seeing Broadway shows.
Andrew Bacevich has written movingly about this segregation of our military from normal American life. It makes the decision to enter military service more difficult for the average American kid, while making the decision to go to war easier on the commander-in-chief. Short of a draft (which is abhorrent to me) there is no easy fix for this separation.
But the hero-worship we give to soldiers is patronizing and dangerous. We pretend our soldiers are so different from us. We leave them alone, and let them be subjects of the Veterans Administration. How kind, to wish they had better benefits packages.
They tell us to thank a veteran today, as if they want to shake our soft hands and hear the words ‘Thank you’ from doe-eyed accountants and clerks who don’t know their names, and apparently don’t care to find out.
Probably better to ask what beer they drink at the local VFW and bring a case every once in a while. Learn a few names, watch a football game. It’s what a good neighbor would do.