The words below are from a dear friend, who is a veteran, in a conversation we had yesterday:
I went to lunch with my stepdad (a Navy vet) and my mom. We were trying to put into words the shared experience of armed service. At the end, we concluded that it’s impossible to tell someone who says “Thanks for your service” that the burden of serving is the feeling that you enlisted as a patriot, but separated as a slave.
I was talking to him about the complexities of Veterans Day—for him, as someone who has dedicated years of his life to military service, and for me, a civilian who has not been impressed with the way he’s been treated. Veterans Day is tough for me. I think it sanitizes war and vivifies our military industrial complex, which profits blackheart men like Jack London (from yesterday’s email).
Our military recruits very young adults, ships them off to ostensibly sovereign nations on spurious pretenses to suffer unspeakable trauma, and fails to help integrate them back into civilian life, work, and good health.
Our military abuses people. I’m not talking Abu Ghraib, I’m talking the rank and file. Immigrant interpreters—who provide do-or-literally-die services overseas—are denied visas once they’re back in the States. Veterans are 1.5x more likely to die by suicide than Americans who never served in the military (for women veterans, the risk is 2.2x).
Forget ISIS and al Qaeda: suicide is the #1 killer of US troops. And this is just the horror inflicted on our citizens, to say nothing of trauma inflicted upon our global family and the Earth herself.
Like anybody with a beating heart and working brain in America, I’m horrified by Trump’s betrayal of the Kurds. (Veterans, by the way, are their most vociferous defenders). I was disgusted by Obama’s drone campaigns in Pakistan—truly, a secret war—which is one of the biggest stains on his legacy.
War games happen when we forget that war is not a game. When we cheapen patriotism to flags and songs and parades and discounts at the movies on Tuesdays.
I am the granddaughter of veterans, a friend of veterans, but the sister of every living thing. To me, Veterans Day is often full of vacuous jingoism. We can do better. Am I asking too much nuance of a holiday? No. We had it once before—and we had it on November 11th.
IN SUM: “In the long run, the oppressor is also a victim. In the short run (and so far, human history has consisted only of short runs), the victims, themselves desperate and tainted with the culture that oppresses them, turn on other victims. ” - Howard Zinn
P.S. Let us not forget the intersection of Native American History Month and Veterans Day. Indigenous veterans: thank you. Seeing you—you—open your heart to serve compels me expand my sense of being, belonging, and loving in this world. (The post below is a video. Tap to watch.)
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