Thanking those who gave all

By Observer editorial November 11, 2013 12:36 pm

Today the nation collectively pays tribute to the men and women who served this great nation at home and abroad, during peacetime and inside the chaos of war. 

Veterans Day stands as a lasting homage to the sacrifices of so many during decades of strife. The price paid by those individuals — in terms of blood and tears — is one America can never adequately repay.

Yet we must, as a nation, guard against locking this day into the wavering, false authenticity of modern American pop culture. Because this day is not just another day, not just another brief holiday to mark on the calendar.

Far too many for far too long gave their bodies, their souls, and, as Lincoln said, the last full measure of devotion to our Democracy for the day to be assigned to the dust bin of our collective
consciousness. 

We rightly celebrate the sacrifices of our veterans today; we correctly reflect on the cost of war on each great generation but we cannot simply evaluate the date and then move on.

Americans tend to celebrate those who made the greatest sacrifices in war and, once the conflict ends and the guns grow silent, move on.

Yet the flotsam of our foreign policy decisions, the remnants of the martial element of the American psyche linger. They walk our streets, serve on elected councils, fix our plumbing, guide our youth and complete a thousand other duties that make our society go. 

They are not special, but they are different. They’ve made a kind of sacrifice many of us — most of us — cannot understand and they have seen pieces of human nature the rest of us would rather believe no longer exist.

We ask so much of our veterans and we don’t even know of what we are truly demanding. For the most part the covenant between the public and our veterans is a silent kind of solicitation.

We, the huge majority of Americans who have not tasted war, who have not said goodbye to family members, who have not seen hostile, foreign shores, have it easy. Our recent extended war on terror is but one, but perhaps the best, example. While young men and women slugged it out with insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, the rest of us went to the mall or the local prep competition or turned on our TVs.

During the next decades the veterans of the global war on terror will grow older. As they do, this nation must not turn its back on them. And it must not ever turn its back on veterans from other conflicts. 

They will need our support when budget crunches seemingly demand a slash of benefits; they will need our guidance when political forces ignore — for the sake of false necessity — their sacrifice.

Yes, recognize this day. Say thank you to a veteran.

But don’t just move on and forget.

Because that would be the cruelest cut of all.