Over the last several weeks, I have been thinking about Veterans Day (really Armistice Day) and what I might write about veterans. I am myself a veteran, however, a decision on a subject escaped me until I opened my email this morning and found a message from TomDispatch about America’s addiction to war and what that means to veterans. The article, entitled “The Intolerable Price You Pay” was written by Dr. Kelly Denton-Borhaug, a Professor of Religion at Moravian University who is a civilian.
After reading the introduction to the article by Tom Engelhardt, I immediately ran across this from Denton-Borhaug:
“As Americans, all of us are, in some sense, linked to the violence of war. But most of us have very little understanding of what it means to be touched by war. Still, since the events of September 11, 2001, as a scholar of religion, I’ve been trying to understand what I’ve come to call “U.S. war-culture.” For it was in the months after those terrible attacks more than 20 years ago that I awoke to the depth of our culture of war and our society’s pervasive militarization. Eventually, I saw how important truths about our country were concealed when we made the violence of war into something sacred. And most important of all, while trying to come to grips with this dissonant reality, I started listening to you, the veterans of our recent wars, and simply couldn’t stop.”
I knew immediately that I was going to agree with her. As I read on, I found more and more of her statements that mirrored mine, about which I have written on this site for almost 15 years. She goes on to say:
"Worse yet, most Americans refuse to face our national reality. Instead, they twist such truths into something else entirely. They distance themselves from you by labeling you “heroes” and the “spine of the nation.” They call war’s work of death the epitome of citizenship. They don’t want to know how often and how deeply you were afraid; how conflicted you were about life-and-death decisions you had to make when no good choice was available. They don’t want to hear, as one veteran said recently in my presence, that too often your lives “were dealt with carelessly.”
Seven years ago I wrote about this “hero” stuff in my article entitled, Veterans Day And Thanking Veterans:
Much of our "thanking the troops" comes in the way of concerts, downtown parades and ceremonies at the local city hall or cemetery. These days, sports teams at all levels have boarded the "thank the troops" bandwagon and fill pre-game and half-time shows with military jet flyovers, unfurling huge flags, playing martial music or honoring particular veterans while the fans roar and the cheerleaders wiggle their butts and scream, "Yay, troops!" The announcer, to much applause, may then speak of our "heroes." But might I suggest that the blanket referral to veterans as "heroes" should stop. I hear it a lot nowadays and it always makes me uncomfortable, not because there aren't veterans who are combat heroes, but because the term is used so broadly it loses meaning and trivializes the notion. If you were to go into any VFW hall or other gathering of veterans and ask all the heroes to stand up, you would most likely get blank stares. Going to a war zone or being shot at is not heroic in and of itself, as most soldiers see that as merely doing their duty. We do them more honor if we engage them in conversation about their service than if we place them on a pedestal. Pedestals create distance. On the other hand, I must point out that the struggles many of these veterans have after returning home truly are heroic in nature, but I wonder how many people who have no connection to military service understand that particular version of heroism.