RICHLAND, WA – My dad was angry when he came home from Vietnam, and every Veterans Day he would become withdrawn and darkly pensive – more so than usual. He would silently watch the news, and unless the person honoring the troops had served in wartime, he saw only empty promises, channel after channel, an endless parade of daytime co-hosts and politicians with a ‘smiley-glad-hand’ shake that meant nothing, their praises ringing false. It’s one of the reasons I don’t salute random service men and women on this day, or ask to shake their hand. It’s not that I don’t want to honor them, but rather the opposite: I don’t want to be one of those people that just pays lip service once a year to the people who really put their life, sanity and their family’s happiness and security on the line when they serve.
The last American war my dad was alive to experience was the Persian Gulf War. I learned during that time, very clearly, my father would never be done serving the Republic; would never be fully robbed of the pride he still felt at the red, white and blue; whose ideals – even in his grief and rage – he had not entirely given up on. The Gulf War became Veteran’s Day everyday in our house, my father’s PTSD going into overdrive. He would chain-smoke, intermittently grinding his teeth, blood pressure turning his skin red, yelling at the TV. He at once admired General “Stormin’ Norman” Schwarzkofp for his leadership in protecting his troops, and was hopelessly sickened by the new style of warfare.
I learned from my father how ‘shock and awe’ is an effective, but ultimately dehumanizing and impersonal war tactic. You don’t see the civilians that are effected, the displaced lives and death toll of the innocent. How could we be sure of moral victory when we had become so far removed from the actual act of killing? It puts into stark contrast, at least for me, the effect of drone attacks on our public psyche. Operation Desert Storm was on every channel – the missile strafes in the night sky over Baghdad looked like a grotesque Fourth of July. At least we were aware of our responsibility then. Today, anyone not serving would almost forget that there is a major war still being fought by our troops.
Where is the outrage over the length and corruption of this war? It’s been subdued and compartmentalized in our daily lives – drowned out in the news by our ruined financial status as a nation, the past due credit card bills and rising inflation. We’ve spent decades trying to spend our way into forgetfulness, while oblivion waits when the full check comes due and we’re still pointing fingers. The ones who know this better than anyone else are the combat vets. So rather than another year of just buying their lunch or their coffee standing in line, sit down and ask them their opinion about the ‘State of our Union’. They have a unique perspective, and one that we need to be paying attention to.