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Memorial Day is about honoring the military service members who have died in our many wars. There will be somber ceremonies at cemeteries. There will be parades to honer the patriotism and sacrifice of military service. But the vast majority of people will not bother to attend these events. For most people Memorial Day is simply the beginning of the summer BBQ season. As is typical of American patriotic holidays, Memorial Day will be more about commercialism than honoring those who have served their country. Holidays are opportunities to sell beer, brats, used cars, furniture, or promote family trips to water parks. Even the graveside ceremonies are a way to sell cheap made-in-China American flags.
If we really cared about the sacrifice of those who have died, our country would be very different in many ways. First of all the “honor” of serving our country would be broadly shared. The patriotic duty of military service would involve more citizens. In WW2, even though there were class and race distinctions as to how you served, everyone was expected to sacrifice. This including civilians on the home front. Today most of us are completely unaffected by war. Public service of all types should be expected of citizens and honored for its sacrifice. It is ironic that we have an almost cult hero worship of veterans but denigrate teachers and other public servants. Many public employees die and are injured in doing their jobs for the well being of all of us. But I digress.
The poor have always fought the rich man’s wars. During the Vietnam War many in the middle class had college deferments. The upper classes, as Dick Cheney famously said, “had other agendas.” In Iraq and Afghanistan the trauma of combat is being disproportionately born by minorities, the poor, the rural unemployed, and the those suckered in by the patriotic propaganda. With no draft, many with better opportunities don’t have to serve. Today a tiny percentage of the total population actually serve. An even tinier percentage see combat.
Those who do see combat get stuck going back multiple times. If we really cared about the “freedom” that veterans allegedly fought for, we would have a much more just, fair, and democratic society. Equal opportunity, civil rights, women’s rights, social and economic justice would be actively promoted. Instead we have continuing discrimination, increasing racial and ethnic hatred, voter suppression, excessive incarceration, and blighted inner city and rural communities. We have a majority of states passing laws to make it harder to vote. We have legislation being proposed to criminalize dissent.
If we really cared veterans coming home injured and broken would receive the best care available. There would be no denying problems like agent orange, Gulf War Syndrome or PTSD. There would be be no ignoring the “moral injuries” that result in high suicide rates. There would be no homelessness or unemployment for our “heroes.” We under fund all important social programs including the Veterans Administration. We never think of the total costs when starting a war. When the troops come home, we don’t want to deal with the human costs. The VA does the best it can with limited funding and personnel. But too often returning veterans have to fight to get the medical, educational, job rights, and job training they were entitled to and deserved. If we really cared EVERY COMBAT VETERAN would automatically be enrolled for whatever VA services they need. If we really cared every discharged service member would be screened for PTSD. If we really cared the VA would be fully funded. If we really cared about our veterans (or all the rest of us for that matter) we would have a national healthcare program befitting a great nation. Not all veterans qualify for VA medical care. Most veterans do not have service connected disabilities. Nor do their families. They are in the same situation as all the rest of us when it comes to medical care.
Many veterans will loose their healthcare if the Affordable Care Act is repealed. Too often too many people fall through the cracks. If we really cared veterans and their families would have the jobs, affordable housing, affordable education, child care and good public schools needed by everyone. If we really CARED ABOUT PEOPLE, and not just making money, or cutting taxes, all of us would have these necessary features of a modern society. All of us would benefit from the common sense programs available in every other first world country. Even with veterans programs like the GI Bill and home mortgage assistance, veterans are often no better off than everyone else. Many veterans, for example, need food stamps even while on active duty!
If we really cared about PEOPLE, and not just the wealthy, there would be decent affordable housing for everyone. But we care more about making money than about people. So the speculative real estate markets are set up to constantly be increasing in price. This is good for sellers, real estate agents (paid on commission), appraisers, and banks. Landlords and speculators can benefit from flipping housing in boom markets. But none of this is is good for people trying to provide housing for their families.
IF WE REALLY CARED ABOUT THE TROOPS WE WOULD NOT BE SO QUICK TO START WARS. WE WOULD NOT GET INTO UNNECESSARY, NO WIN QUAGMIRES LIKE VIETNAM, IRAQ, AFGHANISTAN, AND SYRIA. But there is good money to be made in war. Now we have the option to make good money with the video game wars where the “heroes” don’t even have to be in harms way. We can spend lots of money supporting the arms manufacturers without “boots on the ground.” Drones and $1million a pop cruise missiles keep the money flowing but don’t have the political problems.
IF WE REALLY CARED ABOUT OUR VETERANS, OUR CITIZENS, AND THE ALL THE OTHER VICTIMS OF WAR, WE WOULD FIND OTHER WAYS TO RESOLVE CONFLICTS. THE U.S. WOULD BE A WORLD LEADER IN ARBITRATION, MEDIATION, AND CONFLICT RESOLUTION INSTEAD OF BEING THE WORLD’S LARGEST WEAPONS DEALER. We would support the International Court of Justice. We would work to make the UN an effective organization. We would honor treaties we have signed. We would lead, instead of opposing, international peace efforts like outlawing landmines and nuclear weapons.
Working for peace, and a better America for everyone, would be a good way to honor the sacrifice of those who died serving in the military.