Veterans

Today is Veterans’ Day. You’ll read about it in the papers and see mentions of it on TV, but probably there will not be much else said or done about it. Politicians will lay wreaths at gravesites, and then go on about forgetting the men and women the rest of the time. The VA will continue to be underfunded, the Guard will get sent in harm’s way after training with sub-standard equipment, and congressmen thinking only of their re-elections will push for actions which look good but ignore the needs of the men in the field. Kipling is ignored by Americans just as well as the British forgot him.

There are exceptions, of course. There are businesses which grant preference to veterans when they hire, seems they like to take on men and women who know how to handle responsibility and a genuinely difficult burden, who have dealt with stress and the tough decisions in a way that makes a few business decisions no sweat at all. There are a few congressmen and senators who will actually go out to see where the men serve and meet them to find out what they need in a non-election year, the way John McCain and Joe Lieberman did. And there are some good people who have been sending letters and packages to the troops, caring everyday and not just on a calendar day.

What makes America different, is that Americans do not like war. Even our troops have no desire to do the business of war, the destruction and the killing things they would just as soon not see happen, and these soldiers are only too happy to come home to a normal life. That’s why it matters, that we respect these men and women, not just when we know the cameras are rolling and there’s political gain or cost to a gesture, but in recognition of genuine sacrifice. And when they say they want to complete the mission, to finish the job, we owe them that voice and we should respect their decision.

The war in Iraq and Afghanistan (parts of the same war, though some would lie and pretend otherwise) is controversial, not least because it requires stamina and patience, and the democrats have seen fit to use the war as a political football in more than one election. The soldiers simply want to win, finish the job, leave a stable and independent and free Iraq and Afghanistan, and come home. Anyone who wants to settle for less neither respects nor honors the troops.

War is a horrible thing, and sometimes it serves no good purpose and at other times the best of intentions carry horrific cost. But there are times where it is necessary, where there is no way for greater costs to be avoided except that our soldiers fight, often killing and sometimes dying. The horror of the cost is terrible to consider, yet we must consider it and consider it in context if we are to understand any of it. And the sad truth of it, is that many who make decisions about our troops never even try to consider the cost and its meaning.

Some people attach the moral value of a conflict to the president or party which supports it. I do not. I support the war in Iraq and Afghanistan for reasons similar to why I supported the war effort in Bosnia and in Somalia, similar to why I supported Just Cause and the invasion of Grenada, and why I thought the failed mission at Desert One was something we should all respect and try to understand. Partly because in each of those conflicts American troops were committed and we owe support to the men who went in on valid orders from their commander. Partly also because wars are not to be decided in the same way we choose the next winner of ‘American Idol’. And partly because there is a virtue to American wars, something unique that comes from the character of the men who fight under our flag and the mission of the American war effort. We fight no wars of conquest, and our soldiers change the world for the better when they remove tyrants and despots.

This day is only a symbol of a debt so large we cannot possibly repay it, but the men and women in uniform deserve better than a mattress sale and a passing insincere gesture from a politician whose mind is on his own gain ninety-nine percent of the time. Think about it, then act on it.

Under A Sheltering Tree
Obama and the Veterans 2008