“A man is all the people he has been. Some recollections never die. They lie in one’s subconscious, squirreled away, biding their time.”
William Manchester, “Goodbye, Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War”
Welcome to Veterans Day 2017. Flags will fly, and solemn words will be spoken. People will point out with stern voices the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day. 100 years have passed between 11:00 am on the 11 day of the 11 month of 1917 and today.
In that time, fewer and fewer of the people of the United States have served in the U.S. military. As of this date 7.3 million Americans have served in the armed forces at some point in their life. That figure from the Defense Manpower Data Center translates into the fact that 92.7 percent of all American have no military service.
So in order to make us feel better and make us aware of the veterans among us, we have done various things. We name places and bridges for veterans. We erect monuments to their service and we call all members of the military heroes. We try to equate our experiences with theirs. In fact several weeks ago we spent time arguing about the president of the United States’ call to a widow and an ex-4 star general’s response to that call. What was lost in all that was the loss of four Army Green Berets in Niger, a place where to be brutally frank not many knew we had a military presence in or can find on a map of Africa, me included.
I pulled up my father’s Division History for WWII. The 70th Division had the following causalities: Killed in action, 755 and wounded in action, 2,713. They were late to the war but averaged 9 killed a day and 31 wounded. Of course those figures are misleading as they are spread over the entire time they were in battle. Most of the casualties occurred between Dec. 24, 1944, and March 1, 1945. My point is very simple: There were too many killed and wounded for the president of the United States to write a letter to them all or indeed anyone’s family except in extraordinary situations.
What is the cost to the United States besides the loss of good people? From Brown University come two examples: “The cost of caring for war veterans peaks 30 to 40 years after a conflict, but there are no provisions to cover these future obligations in current wars. Future medical and disability costs for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans will total between $600 billion and $1 trillion.” http://watson.brown.edu/.
Since 1991 we have been at war in someplace in the world. In 2015, the U.S. will have a declared military and defense budget of $601 billion, which is more than the next seven highest spending countries combined. Earlier, I mentioned our obligation to the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is $601 billion to $1 trillion — we have a problem looming on the horizon.
President Dwight Eisenhower, a five-star general, understood the military culture better than anyone. Through his experience he said “In most communities it is illegal to cry ‘fire’ in a crowded assembly. Should it not be considered serious international misconduct to manufacture a general war scare in an effort to achieve local political aims?” I agree with General and President Eisenhower.
On this Veterans Day we should look back to the past wars and do our best not to create a new generation of veterans that we never seem able to support. The snows of more than 150 winters have fallen, and yet we have failed as a nation to observe the words of President Lincoln’s second inaugural address: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
Best wishes to all our veterans.