Opinion: Veterans Day Is About Much More Than Shopping
Robert L. Wilkie | InsideSources.com
Veterans Day will no doubt be a day of discounts, sales and other attempts by retailers to make it easier for Americans with a day off to spend some of their time shopping.
Giving veterans 20 percent off is one small way to recognize those who risked all to serve this nation and defend liberty and justice around the world, and the Department of Veterans Affairs is grateful that so many companies help us celebrate our veterans each year in this way.
But there are other ways to say “thank you” to those who took the oath, and I encourage everyone to use Veterans Day as a chance to learn more about the 41 million men and women who have worn the uniform of the United States since we first fought for our freedom in 1775.
Unlike those who grew up during the Cold War or during World War II, younger Americans are privileged to have grown up at a time in our history in which there is no imminent threat to our country’s existence. For many, putting their life at risk by serving in the U.S. military may seem like an outdated concept.
But history tells us that we must always be prepared to defend America’s foundational principles and ideals. The greatest American hero of World War I was Sgt. Alvin York, who almost single handedly captured 132 German troops. He returned home as a hero, and years later, when World War II approached, many Americans openly wondered why we would ever return to Europe to fight again, since World War I was supposed to be the “war to end all wars.”
It was Sgt. York who would help convince America that it must fight again. He said: “Liberty and freedom and democracy are so very precious that you do not fight to win them once and then stop. Liberty and freedom and democracy are prizes awarded only to those peoples who fight to win them and then keep fighting eternally to hold them.”
This year, we marked the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War, and the 45th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. Many of the men and women who served in these wars are still with us today, and you may have relatives in your family who served. November 11 is a perfect time to talk to them about their experiences and what their service means to them.
Many of them will likely say they were just doing their job. But behind that humble comment, many wanted to ensure the freedom and liberty we enjoy might be spread across the globe, or to protect these blessings at home. Younger Americans might be surprised to learn that protecting the coming generations was already on the minds of their older relatives when they enlisted.
Many of the men and women who fought for this country are resting in veterans cemeteries across the country. Their stories can still be read and understood by visiting these final resting places.
VA is doing its part to keep their stories alive digitally. This year, we launched the Veterans Legacy Memorial, an online resource that allows family members to tell the stories of their loved one’s service. The goal of our National Cemetery Administration is to ensure that “no veteran ever dies,” and we achieve that by making sure we never forget the stories of those who served us so honorably.
More than 19 million veterans are still with us, and our mission at VA is to ensure that they return home to enjoy life as civilians in the country they risked all to defend. The transition is not easy for many, and the VA has launched an ambitious effort to address veterans’ mental health and end veteran suicide. You can be part of this historic effort.
We are building a network of information and resources so veterans can get the help they need either at VA, or in their own community. We are bringing together faith-based groups, schools, companies, and local, state and federal government offices to teach Americans how they can talk to people who need mental health care, and how to direct them to help.
You can learn more at VA’s PREVENTS office, and through the REACH campaign that we launched this year. Participating in these efforts is a way to say “thank you” that can literally save lives and help us make sure these veterans return all the way home.
Robert L. Wilkie is secretary of Veterans Affairs. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Opinion: Don’t Just Thank Veterans for Their Service; Ask Them Hard Questions
Jonathan Wong |InsideSources.com
“Thank you for your service.”
Every veteran learns his or her own way to respond to those reflexively stated words from our fellow citizens. The sentiment is heartfelt, but the speaker often has little understanding of for what they are thanking a veteran. The recipient might want to share something more meaningful, but an awkward exchange is likely.
I don’t recall what I mumbled to people when I first joined the Marines in 2001, but by the time I was discharged in 2011, I learned to respond with an equally reflexive “you’re welcome.” It was easier that way, and it moved the conversation quickly past my service.
My hair is longer now, and I’m just another dad dropping his kids off at school. But I still get an occasional “thank you for your service” when someone sees my old tattoo, asks how I met my wife in San Diego, or sees our wedding picture on my living room bookshelf, with me in my dress blues.
But now I know that “you’re welcome” isn’t all I want to say.
This Veterans Day, I’m going to try to say, “You’re welcome to ask me hard questions.”
Do I think that two decades of conflict after 9/11 have been worth the effort in blood, treasure and honor spent? Looking back, would I have made the same choices, to enlist and re-enlist? These are difficult questions that take veterans off the pedestals that the American public has placed them on. They allow our fellow citizens to look at veterans more carefully — and that’s a good thing.
This Veterans Day, I’m going to try to say, “you’re welcome to ask hard questions about our elected officials’ foreign policy decisions.” After all, they sent hundreds of thousands of men and women like me across the seas to exact retribution after 9/11 — retribution that became less righteous with every passing year.
I came home from the invasion of Iraq in 2003 feeling like we were doing good in the world. By 2006, I could see that our prospects for success in Iraq were not good, and that we wouldn’t be leaving anytime soon. I was resigned to a future of deploying over and over until I was killed. The only thing I worried about was how I would die; I hoped that I wouldn’t cower. I hoped that I would die on my feet, doing my job.
Americans should be welcome to ask these questions and others. If you pay taxes, you have a right to know how your hard-earned dollars are being spent. If you vote (and you should), you have participated in the democratic process that selects the leaders — who set the policies and send the troops.
Most important, you have a right and an obligation to speak out, to question, and to criticize issues of national security. Everything that the military does around the world is done in your name. No experience in uniform is necessary; being an American is enough.
It disheartens me when I see anyone with a public voice trying to deflect criticism based on a notion that it somehow dishonors the troops. It troubles me to hear some fellow veterans channel Jack Nicholson’s character in “A Few Good Men,” who snarls that he has “neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it.”
I promise I won’t be offended if you ask questions. You won’t be dishonoring my service or failing to support the troops. Don’t let anyone tell you that it isn’t your place to ask questions if you haven’t served.
Rather, thank me for my service by being a curious, informed citizen. This sort of introspection as critical to making our democracy healthier. Pericles once said of the Athenian democracy that inspired ours: “If a man takes no interest in public affairs, we alone do not commend him as quiet but condemn him as useless.” So it is today.
Jonathan Wong served in the Marine Corps as an infantryman from 2001 to 2011. He is a security fellow with the Truman National Security Project. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Opinion: We’ve Forgotten the Lessons of Veterans Day
Maggie Seymour | InsideSources.com
“Handshakes from strangers and a free meal at Applebee’s,” I used to tell the young officers. “That’s what you’re entitled to.”
In my short career in the Marine Corps, I started to see a trend — veterans demanded discounts at local retailers, while civilians refused to counter the views of those same vets. All for fear of being labelled unpatriotic or “anti-military.”
There’s an irony here, as the civilian-military divide grows: Veterans are showered with platitudes and ignored by policy.
This Veterans Day, we have a chance to shift those trends.
Our newly elected leaders are obligated to prioritize not just veterans’ affairs, those programs that cater to service members after they take off the uniform, but also to reform our approach to foreign policy.
Veterans Day — or Armistice Day as it is observed in our European partner nations — is a symbol of a foreign policy approach that has been all but suffocated since the holiday’s inception. Veterans Day was originally a celebration of peace, not war, observing the joyous end to “the war to end all wars.” It was meant to commemorate those who bore the battle so that the United States could “show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.” It was hopeful, looking forward to an international structure that prioritized cooperation over conflict, and alliances over anarchy.
The uncertainty of that promise is baked into the holiday’s very name. An armistice isn’t permanent, but rather a temporary cessation of hostilities. Likewise, peace isn’t passive, because a passive peace cannot endure. We cannot “achieve” peace and then walk away from those who fought at our sides to achieve it. We cannot conflate a war won with a conflict resolved.
Just as the world learned with the onset of World War II, failure to address the root causes of a conflict can lead to a resurgence in violence. The peace achieved on November 11, 1919, wasn’t permanent, and our attempts to bring lasting unity to the European continent would take two and a half more decades of diplomacy, trade and war.
And yet, 75 years later, we’ve seemingly forgotten that costly lesson.
We’ve hyper-militarized our foreign policy, with the Department of Defense replacing the Department of State as our leader in international relations. Our “national security” budget is bloated, almost obscene in relation to our national debt and the Department of State budget. The U.S. departure from the Paris Climate Accord and the hard-fought Iranian Nuclear Deal signal the abandonment of the pillars of lasting peace — multilateralism, diplomacy, consensus building and economic freedom.
What’s worse, veterans have been some of the most vocal agitators of this hyper masculine, violence-seeking militarization of our foreign policy — and too often our citizenry remains silent. Instead, many people prefer to double up on substandard coffee and “VetBro” t-shirts while doubling down on empty slogans — using faux outrage and star-spangled concern for veterans as reasons to fight against refugees and racial justice.
But it’s not too late. Veterans across the political and socioeconomic landscape are standing up to celebrate the heterogenous diversity of the veterans’ community. Veterans and their advocates are doing real work to both support the service members of yesterday, and to protect the veterans of tomorrow.
Veterans aren’t relegated to the dusty backbars of VFWs and American Legion potlucks anymore. They’re storming the halls of Congress and knocking on the doors of Main Street. Veterans are sharing their experiences and their needs — and we all have an opportunity to listen, re-rig our sails, and set a new course for a foreign policy that serves the entire international community.
Veterans Day was born of a call for peace, not violence. This Veterans Day I urge us all to honor our women and men in uniform, by matching our enthusiasm for promotional deals with demands for policy changes.
Maggie Seymour served as a former active duty intelligence officer with the U.S. Marine Corps and is a member of the Truman National Security Project. She wrote this for InsideSources.com.