Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Thoughts on Military Service and Better Ways To Express Our Thanks

"My problem has always been with authority, and I'm sure if anybody understands that, it's people in uniform."  -Lewis Black

So Veterans Day rolls around once again, and once again I feel as though much of the country is missing something important.  For example:

Veterans Day Means Freebies for Those Who Served

“Veterans Day is not only a time to honor those who have served in the military: For American businesses, it's also a time to back up that appreciation with a freebie.

A slew of locally owned businesses and national chains offered something free Tuesday to anyone who has served in the military — a trend that has been growing since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"I think it's pretty cool businesses are showing their appreciation this way," Rances said.”

Don’t get me wrong, I think businesses giving discounts and freebies as a ‘thank you’ for one’s service is a great thing and I encourage it.  My problem is that all the stories and editorials (the ones that I’ve seen anyway) don’t go much further than a basic acknowledgement and recognition of veterans’ service and sacrifice.  And the politicians are worse, too many of them using the holiday as a tool for propaganda and making themselves appear properly patriotic in the eyes of the voters.  What I’d really like to see in public discussion and the media are people questioning what our current political policies and the so-called “War on Terror” are doing to our men and women in uniform, and how a once-a-year “thank you” rings somewhat hollow when the political leadership’s selfishness, short-sightedness, and half-assed playing at realpolitik are putting those men and women unnecessarily in harm’s way.  There may be a lot of grumbling from military men and women about the insanity and idiocy that passes for some of the military leadership, but incompetent and unworthy officers and NCO’s can’t hold a candle to the enormous damage done to our military by our political leadership (and by extension, the corporate elite and special interests that pull their strings).

I had once seriously considered joining the military at one point, back in my mid-20’s.  I had decided that I wanted to go back to school to study engineering, and thought that the military would possibly be a good way to do that while at the same time giving something back to the country.  But do you know what ultimately killed that idea?  I felt I simply could not trust the political leadership.  I didn't feel I could trust them to deal with me honestly, or trust them to see me as anything but entirely disposable, or trust them to know which wars are worth sending people in harm’s way and which are not.  Seeing things like the Iran-Contra scandal and first Gulf War when growing up (and then all the various scandals and the crap that went on in through the 90’s) made me deeply skeptical of the motives and integrity of elected officials, and hearing my father recount some of the messed up stuff he’d both seen and been subjected to in the Army during Vietnam increased my skepticism further.  Needless to say, when later that same year George W. Bush was elected president and the disastrous “War on Terror” followed a year after that, my skepticism turned out to be well justified.  While ultimately I think I made the right decision for my circumstance and conscience, I do sometimes wish that things were different and that I could have had the opportunity to serve, at least for a short time, under civilian leadership that was honorable, pragmatic, and worthy of trust.

I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside a large number of currently-serving as well as retired military men and women through my previous two jobs, and many (if not most) of them expressed the same reservations about the political leadership’s decisions and lack of integrity.  They usually spoke in more general terms and didn’t mention certain individuals by name (a requirement when one such politician is your Commander in Chief), but the sentiment was there.  And yet many of them still stuck with it, for more than one enlistment if not for the full 20 years.  Perhaps trusting that they’re doing the right thing or maybe feeling a sense of responsibility they couldn’t discard lightly; I'm only guessing since I haven't served myself.  Now there were certainly a number of grade-A douchebags among the soldiers I worked with, people I would not willingly associate with in most other circumstances.  Yet even they were willing to put their lives and trust in others hands by the mere fact that they signed up and stayed in (or at least didn't try to weasel out before their time was up).  That’s something I was not willing to do, and so that speaks to a level of sacrifice that deserves a measure of respect for them whether or not they have the personality of a complete tool.  What better way is there to acknowledge this than to ensure their time, lives, and physical & mental health are not squandered by the political establishment’s questionable motives and decisions in carrying out the “War on Terror”, a war that by definition can never end as there is no specific opponent to defeat?  Our leaders talk about respect for the uniform and the patriotic soldier out one side of their mouth, while at the same time putting those same soldiers in harm's way for short-sighted power games and dreams of an American empire that actually hurt the country in the long-term.

Whether they fully understood it at the time they signed up and took their oath or not, the soldiers are putting their trust and lives in the hands of the civilian leadership.  In exchange that leadership has a responsibility to use those lives and resources in a responsible, sensible manner.  Unfortunately the majority of the decisions made over the past 13 years (one could also easily argue perhaps the past 50 years) have been neither responsible or sensible, and we're seeing the men and women in the military suffer for it in unnecessary combat deaths, physical injury, mental and emotional trauma, and suicides.  Yes these things often go with the job, but we owe it to them to expose them to those risks only for the defense of the nation.  When we give our consent to govern by voting for the ass-hats in both parties that keep involving us in these foreign military entanglements, any thanks we give to them on this day won't mean much.  So I say if honoring the troops on Veterans Day REALLY means a lot to you, look beyond the surface and see if your actions and decisions are helping or hurting the troops and the country in the long run.  If enough of us do this, maybe we'll have the kind of leadership that will inspire more young adults to consider military service as a worthwhile and honorable option (emphasis on 'option'!), instead of fearing their civilian leaders will use them for selfish and bone-headed purposes.

I'll end this with the following worthwhile links.  One is to the recent Veterans' Day podcast at thesurvivalpodcast.com, and the second is to one of the few articles I've seen that share my sentiments, one written by an Army vet titled, Why Do We Keep Thanking the Troops?

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