Friday, November 11, 2016

Veterans Day

Today is Veterans Day, a day I remember from my youth as being one that was still celebrated, more or less, as Armistice Day to commemorate the end of World War I. Back when I was in elementary school in the 1950s, at 11 a.m. we'd all have to stand and observe a moment of silence. It is amazing how long a minute can last when you're 6 years old, which is probably why I remember it.

Today, of course, it's an occasion for a lot of blathering about anyone who wore a uniform being a hero, regardless of why they wound up in the service, when they served, or what they did while they were in. I'm not sure if it's from a weird collective psychological guilt trip or because it's a good political ploy to make anti-war protesters look like they're unpatriotic, but ever since we got stuck in the quagmire that is Afghanistan, the glorifying the military without providing any actual support for them seems to be increasingly popular. At the same time I've been seeing a lot of memes lately about Vietnam era vets and thanking them for protecting us. From what? A nonexistent Communist domino theory? Fighting the Commies in Vietnam so we wouldn't have to fight the Viet Minh on the beach in San Diego? It's not like they were all super eager to go off to die in rice paddies in a war most of them recognized as unnecessary and unwinnable or that they all behaved in stellar fashion while they were there (for some reason the names My Lai and My Khe come to mind).

I have no idea who is creating the meme to begin with, but lately the one that annoys me the most is captioned "Not everyone in the '60s wore love beads" and has a picture of dog tags. Total garbage. When I was in, I met a lot of guys who had been to Vietnam. Most of them would have cheerfully protested the war given a chance, and quite a few of them wore love beads and peace symbols when they were in civilian clothes. And, wow, every single one who had been to 'Nam either drank like the proverbial fish or smoked enough weed to make Cheech and Chong envious. In retrospect, obviously self-medication for PTSD, which no one talked about back then. None of them wanted to go to Vietnam, and having been there once for sure no one wanted to go back. There was a reason "When I die I'm going to Heaven because I've served my time in Hell" jackets with a map of Vietnam on the back were popular.

Remember, back in the 1960s there was a thing called "the draft." If you were male, you registered with Selective Service when you turned 18 and hoped your draft physical turned up something that would disqualify you from serving. I had a friend who was quite tall; he spent weeks before his draft physical lying down hoping to relax his spine enough that when they went to measure his height in Milwaukee he'd be a half inch over the upper height limit instead of half an inch under. There were guys who enlisted, some prior to getting drafted so they'd have more of a choice (the U.S. Air Force was full of guys avoiding the Army and an infantry MOS) and some after. Another friend decided to go Regular Army so he could pick his occupation instead of taking his chances with what the Army might decide he was good for (i.e., cannon fodder). The difference between having US and RA on your dog tags was a shorter period of service; if you were US you might get out sooner but you were at greater risk (or so guys assumed) of coming home in a body bag.

I got sucked into a comment thread on Facebook when a younger (she's in her 20s) friend shared the Thanking Vietnam Vets for their service meme. Had the interesting experience of someone considerably younger than myself tell me I was wrong, wrong, about both Vietnam and the military. So how much time did you spend in uniform, dude? And what era? Unless you're old enough to have voted for McGovern, you weren't there.

That same comment thread included people repeating that much loved urban myth that returning vets were treated like shit. You know, they got spit on. Well, they did, but only metaphorically and not by the general public. The one group that really showed a lot of contempt for Vietnam veterans was the "greatest generation," the World War II veterans who belonged to the VFW and the American Legion. As far as those guys were concerned, Vietnam wasn't a real war and they didn't want the guys coming back from there in their organizations. It took a decade or two for them to realize they needed new members or their organizations were going to wither and die. Now, of course, it's Vietnam vets who keep those groups going, but there are still a lot of Vietnam era veterans who want nothing to do with either organization.

Small digression: One of the most heartbreaking as well as nauseating things I've read recently was an editorial in the VFW magazine (the S.O.'s cousin, a WWII veteran, gives us his copies). The national commander expressed support for military intervention in the Middle East and then a few lines later tossed in the fact the VFW needs new members to survive. In other words, the VFW supported sending troops off to die because if no new wars get fought, the VFW's membership rolls shrink. Holy fuck. That's even worse than trading blood for oil.

In any case, the most meaningless phrase on the planet has to be "thank you for your service." It's even more vacuous than "have a nice day." Want to thank a veteran for his or her service? Stop voting for politicians who get us into senseless wars and then do everything they can to prevent veterans receiving any benefits or help once they're home. Instead of believing the asshats who represent your Congressional districts when they bloviate about supporting the vets, take a look at their actual voting records. Maybe if more people did that -- actually research what politicians do instead of believing campaign promises -- we wouldn't have homeless vets panhandling on street corners.

Or, even better, want to thank me for my service -- I am a Vietnam era veteran, after all, and being a woman obviously made an active choice to serve -- how about if you twenty-somethings try enlisting yourself? That's right, millennials, stop parroting the crap being fed to you and actually walk the walk. And if you're a little older, how about encouraging your kids to serve? I can still recall quite vividly the look of horror on the face of a co-worker in Omaha when I suggested the military as an option for his about-graduate-high-school spawn. The kid was totally undecided about college, did not have any thoughts on a possible major, so I said, "How about the military for a couple years?" It was like, holy shit, no way in hell, military service is for the lower classes! Of course, the follow-up expression when I said "I'm an Army veteran and my sister was in the Navy" was priceless. Still, that initial reaction pretty much typified what the middle class in America actually thinks of the military and veterans. Military service is something other people's kids do, and then it's because they're poor, uneducated hillbillies or ghetto dwellers not good for anything else.

So, just what do you people think you're doing by doing a lot of public posturing about respecting veterans when you (a) won't support programs that help them, (b) have no absolutely no desire to ever be in the military or have a family member in the military yourselves, and (c) lack the political will to elect politicians who aren't tools of the military-industrial complex? Do you honestly believe slapping a magnet made in China on your car is enough? Do you even know why the VFW and the American Legion have poppy sales? Or do you just figure we have always been at war with Eastasia so you just won't think about it at all?

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