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I don’t often get political on this blog — I generally leave those topics to typoattack — but it’s becoming difficult to avoid in the increasingly politically charged world we live in, and with today being Veterans Day, I find it necessary.
While war is a constant topic of political debate, we’re seeing a trend in general towards mistreating the very people who made that debate possible. It comes in all forms and from all sides, whether it be cutting benefits for veterans, picketing the funerals of service members (lookin’ at you, Westboro Baptists), considering soldiers evildoers and murderers and such, or belittling a specific person’s experience and contribution — consider Donald Trump’s disparaging remarks a few months ago about Senator John McCain and his time as a prisoner of war. And regardless of where you are in the political spectrum or what your view is of war, these things should make you uncomfortable.
Look, I’m not saying everyone who has ever served in a war is a flawless hero. Like any other profession, there are good and bad people in the service. Sure there are probably people who joined up because they wanted to get a thrill off of killing people, or they joined because they’re racist against Arabs/Asians/whomever happens to be on the other side of the battlefield. But don’t let those few blot out the many more who joined for love of their country, out of a desire to keep the people the love safe and free, for the education benefits, those who were drafted, or whatever other reason they ended up in the service. I’m not one to promote war, so I urge you not to take this as pro-war propaganda. I’m not about to say war is glamorous and heroic. War is awful and often senseless. But that doesn’t mean the people who fight in the war are also horrible and senseless. The majority of those people are there for what they believed was a just cause, and are following orders that they are told will serve that cause.
There’s a lot of psychological evidence to show that authority and circumstance often trump morality. I don’t want to lose focus and get too into detail, but if you’re interested in the topic, take a look at the two most famous — the Stanford Prison Experiment, conducted by Phillip Zimbardo; and Stanley Milgram’s experiments on obedience to authority (here’s a concise description, but there’s a whole lot more information available with a quick search). Basically the results here show that circumstances play a huge role in determining how people behave — even if those behaviors go against what they or society deem as moral. Milgram’s experiments are particularly relevant here; remember that obedience to authority is one of the most important values in the service. You’re given an order and you follow it to the letter. The question of whether you’re to blame for the results is one which I’ll leave to the philosophers, but the psychology is sound; following the order does not mean you believe in the action or think it’s right. Just think about all the times you’ve had to do something you didn’t at work because your boss said so. Now magnify the importance and then add society shaming you for doing what you’re told, and think about how much pressure you’d feel in that situation. Doesn’t feel good, does it? Let’s stop shaming our service members for doing what they’re told to do as part of their jobs.
You know, there’s a reason we have Veterans Day, and the reason is because it serves as a day to honor and thank the people who risked their very lives to protect us, our country, and the freedoms we enjoy — and we do enjoy our freedoms, even as we fight to extend them to all American humans regardless of sex, gender, race, or religion. We’re not perfect, but we’re a damn sight better than a lot of other places out there, and we have the freedom to fight to improve, which is more than some other countries can boast. Honestly, we shouldn’t even need a special day to honor our veterans, it should be a forgone conclusion every day. Because the vast majority of us could never do what they did and what so many continue to do, and that they can and do is something we should respect. I know I damn well couldn’t serve; and without our veterans and current service members I wouldn’t have the freedom to make that choice. Yeah, as an American male I still have to sign up for the draft, but it’s a formality at this point, in case of an absolute emergency. To be honest they probably wouldn’t take me even if I were the last option in the country, but that’s beside the point. The point is that I don’t have to be forced to serve because so many others volunteer, and that’s a choice that I could never make and that I respect them for making.
As far as benefits and retirement and such go, it’s not an area I’m terribly well versed in, but from what I’ve heard and understand, the system is far less than stellar. Which is ridiculous, honestly. I’m not saying every veteran should be put up in a mansion and taken care of in high style for the rest of their lives on my tax money, but they should damn well get some decent retirement and health benefits. But from what I understand this isn’t particularly the case, and with the dangers one faces in the service, I think it’s pretty unfair that a veteran should have to struggle just to make ends meet in meager living conditions, or to struggle to take care of their own health, that they were willing to sacrifice for their country. Let’s be honest, whatever the causes of the national debt, it isn’t coming from stellar treatment of our veterans.
In the interest of full disclosure, while I don’t think wars are awesome and do think we (humans in general, not just Americans) jump into them far more often than necessary, I do personally know veterans and current service members, come into contact with others that I don’t know every day at work, and the grandfather I never knew was stationed in Italy during World War II (he didn’t die in the service, but many years later, if you were wondering). But even if I didn’t I would still feel the same way. Because knowing these people hasn’t suddenly made me pro-war or anything like that. Sure the issue hits a little closer to home because of personal experience, but that doesn’t change the fact that the people serving my country are real people laying down real lives so that we can enjoy the way of life we’re privileged to lead.
I guess my point is just that no matter what your political or moral stance or what your personal and familial history is, you should have respect for those who have served and continue to serve. Because ultimately they’re the reason you have the freedoms you do. Disrespecting veterans, current service members, and those who have sacrificed their lives is pure and simple an act of ingratitude. You don’t have to like the government, you don’t have to like war or what goes on, but the least you could do is show some gratitude to the people who make it possible for you to have your opinions. Patriotism doesn’t mean supporting your government or agreeing with things you find unjust, or being bigoted toward other nations and races. It means supporting your country, plain and simple. So do your part and show some gratitude and respect toward the people who serve your country.
Regardless of my beliefs and what changes I might think need to take place here, I’m proud to be an American, and I hope it’s not too presumptuous of me to include the rest of our writers in the sentiment when I wish a very happy Veterans Day to all the men and women who have served and extend my gratitude and support to them and all those who continue to serve. Your efforts and sacrifices are not unnoticed or unappreciated.