Both WWII veterans I've known personally have largely ignored Veteran's Day. But I never thought about it, really. I thought it was a holiday for them, not me. Lately, though, I think I do have an opinion. I think there is plenty wrong with Veteran's Day.
1. What about all the other casualties of war?
For example, my mom and dad had me immediately after college graduation as a way to avoid the draft. I ask my mom and dad now how they could have been so incompetent as parents, yet so interesting in the world (really, everyone loves being around my mom, except her kids. It's uncanny.) They each say that they had kids too young. They were totally unprepared.
So I see the war ruining many lives at home, but we only talk about people who fought at the front. It doesn't make any sense to me. War ripples throughout society.
And what about all the women who keep things going while men go off to fight? What about the army wives who move their families around endlessly as the government moves their husbands? What about the kids who lived in 20 cities and never learned how to make a friend? What about the high divorce rate for people in the armed forces? Why are we only thanking veterans for giving their time? What about all the people who gave up safe, secure lives because one family member was in the armed forces?
2. Veterans of WWII did not “give their lives for their country.”
What else were we going to do in WWII? Stay out of war? Let Hitler kill two million more people? Let all of Russia starve to death? There comes a point when we are moral beings and we have to get involved because we could not live with ourselves if we didn't. During WWII, women took over industry, and men went overseas to fight. Didn't the women give up a lot in their lives as well? Why do we not celebrate the sacrifice on the domestic front, too? Why do we not celebrate the people who waited in line for food in order to ensure food for the troops overseas? Veterans alone do not fight a war: they do it as a team, with non-veterans.
3. Veterans of Vietnam hated Vietnam.
How can we celebrate people being veterans of Vietnam when they were forced to go there with a draft? It seems disingenuous to me to force people to fight in a war they think is totally stupid, and then tell them we celebrate their sacrifice. People want to be celebrated for what they choose to do, for what they are proud of, for what they feel like they did well. Vietnam veterans think Vietnam sucked. We can honor them by not fighting stupid wars anymore.
Of course, we are not doing that.
4. Veterans of recent wars do not go in order to serve our country.
Okay. Please. I'm telling you the truth here: Anyone who has a great career ahead of them, and makes enough money to support their family, and is genuinely admired for how well they have navigated their life so far, is unlikely to enlist in the armed forces.
It's telling that the military has to lure recruits with free college to get them to risk their lives. The people who will risk their lives do not perceive that they have a way to pay for college.
How about in honor of Veteran's Day, we give citizens a way to earn a good living besides leaving their kids for nine months at a time and risking their lives at war?
So Veteran's Day is predicated on the idea that people choose to give their lives for this country. And it's false. People give their lives for values they believe in. And in recent history, that does not include the wars we fight. People are selling their lives for a chance to reach their American Dream.
5. We should replace Veteran’s Day with National Service Day
We need to think through again what Veteran's Day means. And then cancel it. President Obama had a great idea calling for a National Day of Service – where we all get out and do service as a way to celebrate service. While he did not intend for it to be a yearly event, I think this is a fine replacement for Veteran's Day. It is a way to celebrate service, and encourage service, without the hypocrisy of war.
There have always been infinite ways to serve the ideas of the United States without going to war: men who give up high-paying jobs to run for office, women who campaigned for the right to vote, parents who sacrifice health insurance in order to work at a non-profit that can't afford insurance. These people give resources and take risks in order to make the world a better place. We should use National Service Day to thank these people for their service. Because what we're doing now—celebrating military service over everything else—is teaching people that one is more valuable than the other.