What do we commemorate today?

Every year in the United States, the eleventh day of the eleventh month eventually rolls around, often a little lost in the haze following the march back to school and the showiness of Halloween. If not that, then it’s forgotten in the progressively earlier build-up to Thanksgiving, Black Friday, the winter holidays, New Years, and if you have any energy or interest left at the end of that marathon, Epiphany.

But in this country, as we grind further into the longest sustained conflict in which we have ever participated, the day has gained new symbolic importance. It is no longer something that should be noted by politicians, the press, and everyone else, but that cannot be denied. We are still at war – and that means we are still transforming thousands of people yearly into veterans. Ostensibly this is a day to recognize that such a process has occurred. In typical practice, we commemorate today to taking notice that veterans, well, exist. But is that actually how we should spend today? Is it really a “Veteran’s Day” if we honor the day in such a manner?

In fact, some of the most vocal critics of similar practices have been veterans themselves. It’s not enough to have parades and for at least one day of the year acknowledge that veterans are people who, again, exist. That doesn’t help the veterans who feel exploited or abandoned now that their time of service has come to an end. Stopping there fails to fully embrace the needs and desires of many veterans, so it’s obviously pertinent to ask whose goals are advanced by commemorating the day in such a way.

Today, for any residents of the US or other countries the commemorate such a day, I propose a different approach to Veteran’s Day. You can go to the parades, you can enjoy the ceremonies, and you can watch the whole spectacle of it all, but do something more for the rest of the day that you’ll (hopefully) have off. If you haven’t already, read what Afghanistan and Iraq War Veterans’ groups have said about how they’re affected by political policies.  Look at what kinds of volunteer positions the charity for Disabled American Veterans is asking for, and what legislation they’ve taken note of. And for the many veterans who feel like the military has become exploitative, listen to what they have to say over at Veterans for Peace.

The unemployment rate for young veterans is twice as high as their peers who did not enlist
(Originally from here.)

It’s obvious that whoever you are, you won’t agree with everything you read from those places. It’s actually impossible to do so, since every so often those organizations disagree with each other. Likewise, it’s not as though I always have and always will agree with any veteran who crosses my path. More importantly though, that’s besides the point – to substantively look at the needs and wants of veterans, rather than treat them as props that establish a patriotic feeling. Don’t just acknowledge the existence of veterans one day of the year – but actually set aside at least one day of the year to hear their concerns and takes on key issues.

Commemorate Veterans’ Day with conversation with rather than observation of veterans.

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