The way that some people talk, it’s easy to forget that today is not Veteran’s Day. It is Memorial Day, which is a day in which we would go put flowers on the graves of our loved ones who died in war if we had any loved ones who died in war. But, collectively, fewer and fewer of us have any family or close acquaintances who have served in the military, let alone any who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
That’s a good thing. But it comes with a cost. It’s a lot easier to support things like George and Dick’s Excellent Adventure in Iraq if you know up front that no one you know well is going to get killed or injured.
My oldest brother was born in Stuttgart in 1956 because my father had been drafted and was serving as a staffer for some officer over there. He talked about his experience so little that a few years ago I asked him about it just so I would have some idea what he did in the army. My dad isn’t what you would think of as military material, which is no insult coming from me. But he’s a veteran like virtually every man of his generation. We didn’t have this same kind of red/blue cultural divide in that generation because men who serve together quickly learn to recognize each other’s basic decency even if they come from places as different as Brooklyn and Wichita. The draft was a pain in the ass, but it made this a more united, manageable country.
It also created immediate political accountability for anyone who decided to employ our military in direct foreign fighting. Without the draft, this country could have fought in Vietnam indefinitely without much noticeable protest. But Vietnam is where the trust was broken and the whole system was torn up and replaced by a volunteer army. Now war has an expanded lobbying sector supporting the revenues of the private sector, and it has no countervailing lobby of would-be soldiers and their concerned parents.
Today, men like William Kristol and John McCain can maintain a surface respectability while taking to the airwaves on a near daily basis to suggest that we commit our volunteer army to a new military project abroad.
They can do this because most people don’t see this rhetoric as the equivalent of sending a death threat to their children.
So, on this Memorial Day, let’s stop to honor those who have fallen in battle serving our country. But let’s also pause to recognize the evil people who consider our soldiers as no more consequential than plastic Risk markers. Remember those who were killed, but also those who got them killed, and those who would get our present generation of soldiers killed without batting an eye.
This latter group is all around us, working daily to add to the graves we must decorate on Memorial Day, usually in the service of something they only thought up over their morning coffee.
On Memorial Day, call out the warmongers. And remember that we’re a stronger country when we don’t allow ourselves to be so easily divided and manipulated into war.