On Veterans Day I am regularly thanked for my service. Often it is just to fill the awkward empty silence, or because we are conditioned to say so to not risk being labeled treasonous. Maybe it is genuine. But, it is curious how these gratitudes feel like pity more than appreciation. I hear a lot of people follow up the “thank you” with a story about how a loved one or family member served or is serving. Usually it is followed with an excuse on why an individual didn’t serve — a health condition, a college life path, a responsibility at home. It is like our society is suffering from survivor guilt.
Today the United States is still engaged in the longest war in our history in Afghanistan. We project other military actions all over the world. Americans under the age of 21 have never lived in a country not in a state of war. However most Americans are untouched by immediate consequences of these conflicts, unless they have directly seen combat or have had loved ones injured or killed.
Exploited for less than honorable objectives, we are returned home to be celebrated and exploited again on Veterans Day.
People with wealth and power promote patriotism to bring more children into the enlistment office. The cultural identity is now so ingrained in our society that we unquestionably follow any military adventure despite the fact that poor people end up killing and dying and those who didn’t serve are handed the bill afterwards.
So it is not surprising that Nov. 11, which was originally known as Armistice Day — to remember peace and an end to the war that was to end all wars — was changed into Veterans Day, a day to thank those who served for their sacrifice. The holiday builds on military veteran exceptionalism, acting as a recruitment tool for our youth to join and as reinforcement of pro-militarism public attitudes. The transformation of Armistice Day is a perversion of its original intentions because we no longer reflect on the harm war brings and it directly encourages more armed conflict.
Instead of listening to the experiences of those who fought and the many innocent victims and survivors in the conflict zones we create, Americans fixate on the hero worship of war fighters.
Service members are sent on military missions that rarely benefit national defense, assisting people overseas or securing democracy. Exploited for less than honorable objectives, we are returned home to be celebrated and exploited again on Veterans Day. Many former military members are learning to cope with the fact their oath and intentions to serve were taken advantage of, only to re-experience the betrayal annually on Veterans Day.
Veterans burdened by moral injury dwell upon the harm they caused others in war. Armistice is a more inclusive way to recognize not just our own warriors, but the incomparable loss of non-combatants who are uncompassionately referred to as collateral damage.
A true way to honor veterans is to reclaim Armistice Day and use the day to consider the nightmare of combat, the immense destruction, pain and death to not just American service members, but to the millions of innocent victims that host the battlefields of our armed aggression.
We must reclaim Armistice Day to ultimately strive for a return to peace, reparations and reconciliation.
War Resisters is a joint page shared by War Resisters International and War Resisters League highlighting pressing antiwar topics of today. WRI is an internationalist network of antiwar groups struggling to end the root causes of war around the world. War Resisters League is an independent organization based in New York and a proud member of War Resisters International.
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