Another Veterans Day has been marked on the national level with a lot of meaningless “thank you for your service” gestures, seemingly even more of an afterthought this year falling only three days after the shocker 2016 election that catapulted Donald Trump into the presidency. There are growing indications, however, that Americans need to discuss the hard issues that have given rise since 9-11 to what has come to be called “perpetual war.” Although the presidential candidates gave some lip service to helping veterans, most of the hard questions about disastrous US foreign policy and militarism either went unaddressed or were glossed over during the recent electoral campaigns. The disconnect only increases between the 1% “volunteer” (or “poverty-drafted”) military recruits and the other 99% of Americans not even comfortable enough to talk candidly with them or to ask veterans to tell their story.
Former Army Chaplain Chris J. Antal explains it this way:
Veteran’s Day too often only serves to construct and maintain a public narrative that glorifies war and military service and excludes the actual experience of the veteran. This public narrative is characterized by core beliefs and assumptions about ourselves and the world that most citizens readily accept without examination.
The U.S. public narrative reconciles deep religiosity with a penchant for violence with an often unexamined American National Religion. The core beliefs of this religion include the unholy trinity of governmental theism (One Nation Under God, In God We Trust, etc.), global military supremacy, and capitalism as freedom. These core beliefs provide many U.S. citizens with a broad sense of meaning and imbue the public narrative with thematic coherence. . . .
Imagine a Veteran’s Day where communities join together for authentic dialogue between veterans and civilians. Such a gathering would empower veterans to share the kind of stories that would help the community face real problems. What new story might emerge in the process? How might we become a better people as a result? (from “Learning Horrors of War from Vets” on Consortiumnews.com)
What a great suggestion! We were indeed lucky to get Reverend Antal, retired Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson and local Veterans for Peace members to speak in the Twin Cities at various “Armistice Day” events this year, doing their best to explain to the rest of us why peace is now needed, perhaps as much as it was needed nearly a hundred years ago, in 1918. As Wilkerson writes:
Today, it is crucial to listen to that less-than-1-percent of us who have gone into harm’s way on behalf of the other 99 percent. It is crucial because the country is perched on the edge of a dangerous new Cold War, potentially more military deployments to western Asia, and a looming battle in the South China Sea. This is to say nothing of the growing likelihood of the use of nuclear weapons, from Korea to Ukraine, and of a Congress dead-set on unraveling the only successful diplomacy in several years, the nuclear agreement with Iran.
Does our nation’s ever-increasing militarization cause abuses of power, as almost every one of our Founders warned it would? Could our massive and costly counter-terrorism efforts be counterproductive? Do mass surveillance, indefinite detention, torture, ceaseless war and the expenditure of a trillion-plus dollars every year for national security, help or hurt our real security? If we always look forward and never backward, are we doomed to repeat history’s most serious mistakes? Could we be sleepwalking right into World War III?
What if we could ask the hard questions of someone like World War II General Dwight Eisenhower, architect of the Normandy landings and our 34th President? In January 1961, Ike presciently tried to warn us about the dangers of the Military Industrial Complex, now more accurately called a “globalmerchant of death.” He also expressed grave misgivings about nuclear weapons and the decision to use them in 1945 against Japan. Strange thoughts for a five-star general — unless we stop to think about the pinpoint accuracy of his remarks about the Complex and the almost religious intensity of his dislike for weapons of mass destruction. Truth about war more often emanates from the warrior than the non-warrior. We needn’t wonder why.
What advice might America’s veterans of the First World War give us? In 1918, at the 11th hour, on the 11th day, of the 11th month, the armistice for the “war to end all wars” was signed in Compiègne, France. The date and specific timing were carefully chosen as a lasting symbol of that goal to end war for all time. While this eleventh day of November is still commemorated as “Armistice Day” in most countries, in 1954 the name and focus were shifted in the U.S. to “Veterans Day.” Would the WWI doughboys be disappointed in our having relinquished that lofty goal? Have we conceded that we will be locked in perpetual war for the foreseeable future, war with its insatiable consumption and waste of lives, treasure and the environment? (from oped “Armistice is what’s needed” published in St. Paul Pioneer Press, 11/10/16)
So take the opportunity (as we did in our “Armistice Day” forums below) to discuss the tough issues with someone who’s served in the military and knows whereof he or she speaks. Then suggest the same to the President-elect—which, if nothing else, might serve as a good reminder of his own campaign trail criticism of both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama Administrations’ foolishness in having launched wars that not only hurt many veterans and veteran families, but also resulted in the deaths of over a million civilians of foreign countries as well, hurt U.S. security and national interests and helped increase international terrorism.
Forum at First Unitarian Society, Minneapolis, moderated by Mnar Muhawesh, Mint Press News