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Dept of Veterans Affairs

We all know about this day. There are sales all over the place. You could even go out and get a meal, or a barbecue. What most Americans are missing this day are the actual veterans and things like work. About one percent of the population has served. And this means that five percent of the population is linked to veterans, either because they are parents, aunts, or friends. Or because they are dependents and saw their family members suit up and deploy.

Since 911 most Americans have been happy to defeat terrorists abroad but have not suited up themselves. Unlike World War II, most of the American population has not been touched by the wars. These wars will likely continue for years to come. Partly it is very easy to start a war. It is not so easy to get out of one.

We also have gotten into a predictable response every time American citizens are killed abroad. We saw that just last week after members of the LeBaron family were brutally murdered in Sonora, Mexico. It was code for the US needs to go to war in Mexico against the cartels to eliminate the cartels. Oh, should we point out that most of the people making this call have never served in uniform? They will not be directly affected by the war, either in physical or mental ways.

Then there is the other aspect of the story. Mexico has been at war with the cartels since 2006. This is why President Manuel Lopez Obrador concluded that more violence will not stop that war. We can have an educated discussion on this, but the fact remains that Mexicans have suffered incredible casualties, conservatively 60,000 have died over the course of this war.

But going back to the American reaction. We are ready to go in there, kick-ass, take no prisoners. And I will argue that part of this attitude is the fact that most Americans will never be touched by this war. It is a very easy attitude to take when you are not the one bleeding or dying.

So what have Americans done instead? They tend to thank service members (and at times their families) for their service. I get it. At one level it is easier to say thank you than to suit up or see your loved one off to war. It is actually a cheap response to this because it is quite empty.

If you really want to thank a veteran here is what you should do.

* Learn what programs veterans have a right to.
* Most Veterans like the Veterans Administration, even with its problems. Lobby Congress so they stop mucking with it. The Vouchers programs are but one way to attack a system of yes, socialized medicine. And since most Americans will never have a right to it…or understand why former service members need very specific care.
* Services for veterans have to be expanded, not curtailed. These include housing and mental health.
* The GI Bill comes under attack regularly. Why? It costs money, however, if we cannot afford to pay for these things, maybe we should stop making veterans, especially combat veterans.

Telling a vet thank you for your service might make you feel better. But what will make that veteran’s life better is if you get involved in the issues that affect veterans.

Which brings me to a story that in some ways has not changed. After 911 we all started seeing yellow ribbons everywhere. Companies, such as Walmart, took advantage of this and monetized them. One lady pointed to her ribbon and I paraphrase, “I support the war, vets and active-duty troops.”

Well, I asked her exactly how that ribbon does that? She remained silent. Then she said, and again I paraphrase, “but this helps.”

How? I got no answer in the circular logic. She believed, after some time, that Walmart donated the proceeds. They did not. To this day these ribbons are sold, and there is no donation anywhere. Yet, they still make people feel better.

This is the equivalent of thanking the troops. You can do something far more substantial by lobbying congress. And if you insist, and yes we have done this. When you go out for dinner, pay a service member’s dinner, quietly. You do not need to make a fuss or muss about this. I can tell you this when I shop at the PX, a benefit of being a dependent of a vet, at times I pay for groceries for lower enlisted dependents or even service members. Why? Well, these people are paid peanuts and receive food stamp benefits to make ends meet. Me paying for the gallon of milk makes a real difference. Me lobbying for better services makes a real difference. Funding the wall, by defunding a school in a military base, is exactly what we should avoid doing.

But Veterans Day should be non-political! I hear you, go buy a mattress.

What do you think war is? It is also a good idea to learn what the day means or when it started…on the eleventh day, on the eleventh hour, of the eleventh month.

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! — An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, —
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Written by

Historian by training. Former day to day reporter. Sometimes a geek who enjoys a good miniatures game.

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