There is an impact, right?
Honoring current and former service members should be a nonpartisan proposition. I will do my best here to keep it so. But neglect of veterans’ issues, whether explicit or semantic, bespeaks a politics of exclusion that no party—and no community—should accept.
Now, I’m not perfect and I shouldn’t throw stones myself. This Veteran’s plans for Veterans Day didn’t involve visiting with any of his brothers and sisters or serving those of us who are less fortunate. I took the more prosaic goal of applying for jobs (transition seemed like an overwrought bureaucratic term when I was in; now that I’m getting out I see what an understatement it truly was) and catching up on research and writing for a few colleagues. But I’m still serving the family of a Veteran, namely my own. So at least there’s that.
Still, I can’t help notice that in the political theology* of these United States, Veterans Day, like so many other national holidays (remember the provenance of the term “holiday”), now sees its significance eroded by the shifting currents of post-everything-ist cultural redefinition (no judgment, just observation). As GDPs and populations grew so that the economic and human cost of war was less by its percentages, the military and Veteran community became disconnected from civil society at large, and this in turn began to affect the political marketplace. Meanwhile, the growth of news media and *ahem* education meant that felt responsibility for political opinions of war diversified beyond policy makers and American-ethnocentrist viewpoints, for better or for worse.
As a consequence, detachment from and apathy towards military service meant that attitudes towards those who served and esteem of the profession of arms as a whole fell precipitously in the national consciousness. Twelve years after 9/11 and following the eight-plus years spent in (and on) Iraq, the resurgence of respect for our Armed Forces has proven muted at best. Policy and personal deportment alike cannot escape the feelings of society as a whole. In certain circles, a socioeconomic condescension belies the “polite” praise given to warfighters and Veterans when “appropriate”, as on Veterans Day for example.
Part of that downward shift in respect is the impossibility of remaining in an economy where military officers out-earned NFL athletes, among other physically and intellectually gifted elites. The military has defended the economy well enough that other choices of comparative advantage in careers have evolved; “CPT Mark Zuckerberg, Company Commander” (he’s still only 29 years of age) had absolutely no chance of happening after the end of the military draft in 1973. There is no moral wrong to accuse: that’s the way our Founding Fathers would have wanted it. But it is somewhat more troubling if the Facebook boss doesn’t make moves to appreciate the vicissitudes of his peers. (Google, if nothing else, has altered its logo appropriately.) If his recruiters aren’t making an effort to bring transitioning Veterans out to Palo Alto, the company does suffer an opportunity cost in talent for the oversight.
Now, some people would read the above and their instinct would be to defend Facebook as against an overweening special-interest group looking for a free lunch. (Obviously, the country already has enough of those.) To falsify my propositions, then, one argues that Mark Zuckerberg does not owe Veterans on a political-economic or moral (or technological) basis, and that there is no economic profit to be found in the Veteran talent pool (at least for Facebook, Inc.). The problem is, I don’t see a way to advance those arguments without engaging in political, cultural, or socioeconomic denigration of our service men and women past, present, and future.
Perhaps one advances the argument that Veterans “knew what they were getting into” or worse, “already get too many privileges” and even “hero worship”. One need not engage in too many discussions to find this kind of myopia and elitism in far too many places. But here’s the thing. Military service is difficult and uncomfortable compared to modern American life, and war is unknowably traumatic on the body and soul of the warfighter. If this wasn’t true, more people would be willing to serve and find out about it, wouldn’t they?
So finally we come to the culturally elitist argument, though it will disguise itself as addressing political economy or social justice. But these too are falsehoods levied with varying degrees of malice. If one assumes that military service caters in its recruitment to “the lower classes” and minorities; that its standards are lower than in other industries; that the educational, physical, and commercial achievements of service members and Veterans lag behind those of society at large; that it requires less critical thinking in favor of “blind obedience”—in other words, that the military is for people ontologically Other from oneself and one’s beliefs—one is already guilty as sin of ingratitude. We are all Americans, and we are defended by other Americans who chose an experience that the rest of us won’t ever have, because we won’t have to. It shouldn’t be complicated any further.
If this seems simple, perhaps you haven’t observed its failure recently enough. Practicum (name changed) via, ironically enough, Facebook:
Thank you to all my friends and family who have served in the military. I especially think about my grandfather, who told me stories of fighting Nazi submarines as a Commodore in the British (then Indian) Navy. However, I still think the greatest way to honor our armed forces is by not utilizing them for unjust wars. My pride in the abilities and sacrifice of these folks does not always extend to pride in what they are tasked to do. And I learned that from the years of emails