Memorial Day typically is more somber, since it commemorates those who died while serving. But Veterans Day reaches far more people, covering all whose lives were touched by military service—many wounded, some grievously; others mentally scarred by the horrors of combat; large numbers conscripted into other nations’ conflicts. Of which there have been far too many.
Veterans Day is a holiday filled with public rhapsodies about the bravery and sacrifice of military personnel. For the vast majority of veterans such accolades are justified. Some pay with their lives. Others are injured, often suffering from mismanaged health care at home. Even away from combat life can be tough, with government controlling one’s future. For everyone serving there is arbitrary bureaucracy; their families endure constant moves and much more. Dependents—military brats like me—simultaneously enjoy and suffer from a lifestyle bizarre by most Americans’ standards.
Veterans have become an important lobby. The Civil War spawned the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization drawn from the North’s armies. The Veterans of Foreign Wars was established in 1899 by men who served in the Spanish‐American War and sought health care and pensions. Membership increased with those who fought to suppress Filipino independence fighters. The VFW dramatically expanded after World War I and especially World War II, during which 16 million Americans served in the military. A series of smaller conflicts added new members in recent years.
Unfortunately, that process continues. Despite the end of the Cold War Americans have been constantly in combat. The Nobel Peace Prize‐winning U.S. president expanded and extended the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, intervened in Libya, reentered Iraq, and crashed Syria’s civil war. The latter two commitments remain small, but hint of expanded combat to come. Indeed, the U.S. experience is that no Middle East intervention actually ever ends. Rather, every new war creates unintended consequences, generating conflict and chaos, causing Washington to intervene again.
Of course, every Veterans Day ostentatious political patriots attempt to outdo each other to win votes. Many never got close to a uniform, like Dick “I had other priorities” Cheney, who avoided serving in Vietnam but today plots multiple wars. Those who studiously avoided service even more loudly praise those they send into combat for bravely defending America’s security and Americans’ freedom.
The U.S. was born in war. Sometimes military action is necessary. But not often. Indeed, virtually never these days. Almost all of the conflicts so often initiated or joined by Washington implicate no important, let alone vital, interests. Most are far more likely to undermine than advance liberty and peace.
In short, military personnel usually do not in fact fight—and die—for Americans’ freedoms. Rather, veterans are employed to advance whatever policies, preferences, desires, or fantasies dominate the denizens of Washington. Alas, only rarely do those objectives reflect Americans’ interests.
To criticize the wars in which veterans fought is not to blame those in uniform. They believe in their nation; they desire to serve those around them. They believe their political leaders. Unfortunately, the latter have routinely abused veterans’ trust. Too many officials treat military personnel as gambit pawns in a never‐ending global chess game. Of course, the ultimate responsibility lies with the American people, who elect and reelect irresponsible presidents and congressmen, who treat war like just another pork barrel program.