At 11:00 am on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year 1918, the guns fell silent on the wastelands that were the battlefields of western Europe. The War To End All Wars was halted by an Armistice between Germany and the Allies. The hundreds of thousands of men and tens of thousands of women (who were on the battlegrounds as nurses and ambulance drivers) stopped what they were doing. Back home, whether that was England, the U.S., or Canada, family members also paused in gratitude.
We now observe November 11th as Veterans Day, an opportunity to honor those who have served in the military. Parades, ceremonies and somber speeches occur around the country; banks and government offices close, and children have a day off from school. Yet I have to wonder: what is our true connection to this “holiday” and to the people who volunteer to risk their lives in service to our republic. How many of us actually know an active or recently returned service member? What is our emotional and intellectual investment in their lives, their risks, their sacrifice?
We read the papers (and now can sometimes even see photos of the flag-draped coffins or hear stories on the radio); progressives bemoan the waste of lives and money; President Obama struggles to move the morass to resolution. But do we pay the issue more than lip service?
Do we really understand, at a deep level, the horrifying and increasing rate of sexual assault on women in the military, and the totally inadequate response to it? Does the average person in this country know that a woman who is assaulted has almost no recourse? She essentially waives all her rights when she enters a branch of the service. Victims of domestic violence committed by their military partners are equally bereft of rights, and must depend on the military to protect them. That reliance, sadly, is often misplaced.
Similarly, the persecution of gay and lesbian soldiers continues, not just through the senseless discharge of dedicated military personnel, but with actual physical attacks. While more than 70% of Americans think Don’t Ask Don’t Tell should be repealed, and a majority of service members themselves think the irrational and discriminatory policy should be repealed.
Don’t misconstrue this as an attack on the military and the people who choose to join. For many, if not most of those women and men, military service is their best route to education, vocational training, and better prospects for a post-military career. (Some organizations, such as the conservative Heritage Foundation, dispute this premise.) I applaud those who make that choice. But with the wars stretching on seemingly interminably, I think we all have to ask ourselves: what can we do besides applaud and line the parade routes? They deserve more, and our nation’s integrity demands more.
Photo Credit: Sgtcip