Veterans Day Reality
On Veterans Day I am reminded of the many popular misconceptions about veterans. We have an almost cult hero worship of veterans and their “sacrifice” for “freedom.”
The truth is veterans are just people. They reflect a cross section of our society. They have the same mix of dedication, patriotism, and competence as other public employees. They also exhibit the same prejudices, character flaws, and foibles as the general population. The periodic scandals (rape, torture, killing of civilians, sexual harassment, cheating on competency tests) clearly illustrate this point.
It is a myth that we owe our freedom to veterans. Our many wars were NOT fought to defend freedom. They were about expanding territory, securing commercial advantage, opposing other political systems and making money.
Freedom, to the degree we have it, has been created, expanded, and defended by political and social activists. It is the abolitionists, suffragettes, civil rights activists, labor organizers, peace marchers, and social justice workers who have struggled to make “freedom” a reality in America. The military has often been the instrument to suppress democracy, lawful dissent, and the many struggles for social justice and a better America.
The veteran hero myth is misleading because it overemphasizes the “sacrifice” of most service members. About 80% of military personnel serve in non-combat support roles. Most veterans went to work at the office, warehouse, motor pool, medical clinic, or dining facility like similar civilian occupations. Granted they had other military duties, and some did wind up in combat zones, but most were never in “harm’s way.”
There are many reasons why people join the military. A steady job, job training, educational benefits, retirement benefits, or a ticket to a better life are the reasons many people join. Patriotism and service to country are not major factors.
The hero rhetoric is not only inaccurate but it is harmful. These misconceptions help perpetuate militarism, excessive military spending, and make the next war possible. I suspect the burden of being a “hero” can even be harmful to returning combat veterans. We should respect their service but not make them into false heroes.
Until we are honest with ourselves about militarism in our society we cannot make progress toward a better, safer, or more secure America. The best “thank you” we give to veterans is to use our freedom to work for peace.
Philip Anderson is a 20 year veteran of the US Millitary