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A Thank You to Veterans, in Defense of us Civilians

 

On Monday, a coworker gave me a copy of a piece called “A Little Perspective” that she related was part of a presentation given by the keynote speaker at a pre-Veterans’ Day dinner that she had attended on Saturday night. She thought that I might want to print it in this week’s paper, as it was particularly poignant and relevant to tomorrow’s observance of Veterans’ Day. It was only then that I realized that Nov. 11 was to fall one day after our national observance of the former Armistice Day, and I lamented that we couldn’t pull together all of the news related to Veterans’ Day events under one banner and commit a page or two to our military veterans and show the many ways in which we venerate them.

I read “A Little Perspective” with interest, thinking that we would likely format it as prose, as we planned to do with similar pieces. The relatively short piece is designed to mark the difference between the daily routines of a civilian and that of active duty personnel in theaters of war. It begins, “Your alarm goes off. You hit the snooze and sleep another 10 minutes. He stays up for days on end. You take a warm shower to help you wake up. He goes for days or weeks without running water. You complain of a headache and call in sick. He gets shot at as others get hit, and he keeps moving forward.”  

The sentiment of the piece and the subsequent 18 two-line comparisons was obvious. The message was clear.

We civilians have it easy. Most of us have a solid roof over our heads, sufficient food to eat, and the most horrible thing we witness on a normal day is a traffic jam or another dead deer along the highway. But the next line took the piece in a different direction that didn’t just make me feel uncomfortable, I couldn’t relate to it.

“You put on your ‘anti war/don’t support the troops’ shirt and go meet your friends. He still fights for your right to wear that shirt.

Personally, I wouldn’t know where to purchase a shirt with such a slogan, let alone would I wear one, and neither would any of my colleagues.

Some of the lines that followed were more mundane and sensible, such as “You make sure that your cellphone is in your pocket. He clutches the cross hanging on the chain next to his dog tags. You are angry because your class ran five minutes over. He is told that he will be held an extra two months.”

And then “You hear jokes about the war and make jokes about men like him. He hears the gunfire and bombs.”

I have not heard anyone joke about the conflicts in which we are currently engaged. There’s nothing funny about them.  And, although I don’t discuss warfare on a daily basis, I take it seriously, and I truly believe that most Americans do as well.

Reading this piece gave me the sense that we civilians are getting a bad rap, and I’d like to address it from a purely civilian point of view. I have never been in the military, even though I seriously considered it before and after college, so I can never speak for a veteran. I will never know what it feels like to see, hear, and smell death all around me. But I can imagine it, and I’m sure that it must be hell. I am also sure that I am one of a majority of Americans who have a tremendous amount of respect for our men and women in uniform and the jobs that they perform around the world in the name of freedom.

In the past decade or so, I have seen civilians come around to a much better understanding and appreciation of the commitment that our soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen have made to their country, and this sort of rhetoric threatens to take us backwards. I’ve seen a tremendous effort by school faculty members to help children understand what military involvement means and to instill in them a patriotism that is made stronger by introducing them to both veterans and active duty personnel as a part of their curriculum.

The use of this piece as a reverent addition to a Veterans’ Day program confused me, even though I’m sure it was done with good intentions. Nonetheless, I sought advice from my barber, who proudly sports a Navy tattoo on his forearm. “Do you feel this way?” I asked him. “Do you sense cynicism from us civilians?”

He agreed that the American perception of military service has evolved in a positive manner over the course of the past two decades at least and suggested that the sentiment behind “A Little Perspective” stems to the post-Vietnam War era. That guilt and shame cast on veterans returning from the Vietnam War, who were involved in a conflict that confused us and bred contempt and mistrust among many civilians, was turned back on civilians in the years that followed. Thanks to the many veterans who stood fast and told us that we were blaming the wrong people, I believe that, in hindsight, most of us have a better understanding of how that misplaced anger hurt the boys and young men who returned from the first non-conventional conflict in which our proud nation had ever participated.

We have experienced an evolution of humanity, however, of which we should be proud and not still stand divided. It helped us to understand the difference between our government and our armed forces. Increasingly, the military commanders who are permitted to express their opinions are making more sense to us than our elected officials, who are clearly out of touch. Occupy Wall Street is not an anti-American movement. It is an effort to take back the nation from the fat cats whose policies continue to drain our resources and allow the rich to get richer while the poor watch their remaining opportunities for advancement evaporate before their eyes.

While we surely need an elected branch of government as a balance of power, lest we set ourselves up for a coup, I believe that America’s pride in its military, though we pray silently that our friends and relatives in the service are not in harm’s way, is the strongest now that it has been in my lifetime. There may be protests in more populated areas, where it seems that everybody’s always complaining about something. But I have not heard of or seen any such anti-war/anti-military rhetoric or actions here in the Endless Mountains.

It’s true that our comfortable existence on American soil can make us appear ignorant, but most of us truly revere and respect you veterans and thank you for your dedication to keeping America free. We can never truly understand what you have experienced or how you feel about it, but I ask you to stop short of painting us as your enemy. That’s the last thing that America needs right now.


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