Veterans Day

Veterans Day

VeteransDAyToday is an American holiday. Banks and other federal agencies are closed and most American school children are also staying home. It’s known as “Veterans Day.”

First declared by President Woodrow Wilson after the end of World War I and later codified by The Congress, it’s a holiday in America that evokes many different emotions from different groups of people.

During my life time, which began just after the end of World War II, America has fought far too many wars. And when someone like myself becomes critical, it’s an intellectual challenge to praise the soldiers who carried them out.

Immediately on the other hand, however, foreigners should realize how radically different our armies are today than when I was a boy.

Today America’s fighting forces are entirely voluntary (with the subtle distinction that “reserve” soldiers, those who have technically retired or enrolled mostly as home guards are now being routinely called upon as active troops).

This differs radically from when I was young, when the bulk of the armies were conscripted from young men. It was a mandated responsibility for young men approaching their third decade to be prepared to serve in the military if called.

The transition to an all-volunteer force was accomplished fairly easily by raising soldier pay and benefits. As America became more of a war fighting country, the rich also become more powerful, the poor parts of society enlarged, and for much of this time unemployment remained high.

Joining one of America’s armies not only provided reasonable and regular pay, but gave the recruit enormous valuable training in all sorts of skills, and at least until recently, when released from even the shortest contracts also provided excellent extended benefits, such as healthcare and higher educational subsidies.

Much of America’s armies, like ancient Rome’s and Persia’s, are opportunities for the oppressed and downtrodden to break out of an endless cycle of hopelessness. It’s therefore hard to criticize these young people for joining the American military.

So today there are many of us reluctant to celebrate anything that has to do with America’s wars. Yet we can’t ignore the life stories of those that have become conflated with them.