Veterans Day and the Cost of 'Forever Wars'

NEW YORK CITY, NY, UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 11: Participants march during the annual Veterans Day parade to honor U.S. milita
NEW YORK CITY, NY, UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 11: Participants march during the annual Veterans Day parade to honor U.S. military and the U.S. Armed Services Special Forces at 5th Avenue on November 11, 2013 in New York City, USA. This year the annual parade is dedicated to especially women members of the armed forces. (Photo by Cem Ozdel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The holiday we know as "Veterans' Day" was born out of the armistice of World War I, the war that was supposed to end all wars. It was conceived as a day of remembrance, a day "to be dedicated to the cause of world peace."

This Veterans' Day, world peace feels a long way off. The United States is in its 14th year of war. After all these years of bloodshed and trauma, we as a society still haven't grappled with the burden our military, and their families, continue to bear.

Veterans' Day is rightfully reserved to commend the valor displayed and lives given in places like the Argonne Forest, Okinawa, Bastogne, Inchon, Khe Sanh and Fallujah. The good soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who fought those battles are what enrich the proud tradition of the American military today.

Because of perpetual wars like ours, we must use these occasions to reflect on the costs "forever wars" have exacted not just on those we have lost, but on those who survive them. For so many of our servicemen and women, this holiday season will be spent in another mess hall, far from home. For our military families, they will again brave the empty seat at Thanksgiving dinner or endure the absence of a father or mother on Christmas morning. In forever wars, Veterans' Day is a heartbreaking reminder of those we've lost, and those who have yet to come home.

It was President Kennedy who said, "As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them." We have spent billions equipping our men and women for war. We train them, we arm them, we deploy them. And usually, we do it extremely well. What we have not yet learned to do well is bring them home, to care for their wounds, seen and unseen, to listen to their experiences, with empathy and openness.

We need real initiatives, real conversations, real funding to demonstrate to our servicemen and women that we're committed to upholding our end of this deal. Putting on the uniform should come with the full faith and confidence that your country is prepared to care for you long after you come home. For so many of our veterans, a new kind of war begins long after combat ends. It is high time we as a nation listen to the stories they have and need to tell.

If this country is ever to know peace again, we need to try to empathize with these stories of war.

We remember proudly today the service of our veterans, but we must also reflect solemnly on why Veterans' Day was established at all. War is cruelty and a day "dedicated to the cause of world peace" is needed now, more than ever. Today, let's honor our veterans and all those who continue to serve in harm's way by affirming our pursuit of a just and lasting peace.