How to Really Commemorate Veterans Day

The United States is about to approach another Veterans Day. This special holiday was designed to honor those who have served their country.

There is no doubt about it, the United States loves to celebrate veterans. It is difficult, if not impossible, to go to a sporting event without there being a moment where we celebrate those that served. Retirees, enlisted members, officers, come out to the field to receive applause for their service.

When I was a younger man I found patriotism to be among the highest of virtues. I was little during much of the Vietnam War, but I still have memories of protests and activists calling those that served the worst possible names. It was reactionary politics at its worst. On the other hand, what we do today seems to be another form of reactionary behavior. We seem to practically worship those that served. I wonder how children at sporting events feel when the crowd is encouraged to stand and applaud those who have or still are serving their country. We certainly need people who will serve, but shouldn’t we take a sober view about how far we go in honoring them? At some point, we are not honoring the soldier as much as the wars they have fought in.

All of the wars the US fought were costly — both in dollars and lives. For many, we have little to show for them.

I believe the United States is, largely, a nation of reactors. In the 1960s, when brave soldiers came back after the Vietnam War, they were often accused of being “baby killers” and were treated as criminals. It was unconscionable. It is even more horrific when one considers the fact that over 30 percent of these soldiers were conscripted to serve. They did not volunteer. They were victims of involuntary servitude. For many in this group, the objective was simply to survive. Treating them as criminals was beyond bizarre. Meanwhile, those who volunteered, did not all sign up for any particular war and in their memoirs and interviews, they will be the first to tell you how shocked they were with what they found themselves fighting.

By the 1980s, military service became widely respected again. The pendulum had swung in the opposite direction. Politicians in general began to create linkage between the worthiness of the soldier and the wars they fought. Since these were good people, who gave so much, the only “logical conclusion” is that it was for “worthy causes.” Over time, being critical of conflicts was seen as being hostile towards those who fought it, as patriotism took precedence over human lives. This is, of course, exactly what the vast majority of politicians desire. Forget about wrapping these wars in the American flag, politicians wrap them up in the sacrifice of those who fought them. This was a brilliant (and even, evil) strategy, which has cost so many lives and for many of our veterans, long term disabilities. The opposite is true. We should be extremely vigilant in making sure these wars are, in fact, worth US dollars and (more importantly) lives.

The best way to honor the fallen and those who continue to live suffering from PTSD and long term injuries, is to make sure there are fewer that fall or suffer in the future. The way to pursue that is simple. Going forward, the US should only be allowed to take offensive military actions with countries (or entities, such as ISIS) that it has declared war against us. The War Powers Act, which was designed to protect the country from immediate danger and the Constitution from a president who would go too far without Congress, has been ignored. It has become so weak, Trump disregarded it entirely in his unconstitutional war against Syria. It is amazing the President would inform the ally of the country he was striking, but not inform a single member of Congress. Meanwhile, he has done so without consequence. One can simply dismiss the War Powers Act as a remnant of the past.

It is time for the US to develop a mechanism to protect the Constitution, US lives, and those that would be sent to fight wars. A president should have the leverage to profoundly defend US interests in an attack, but never be allowed to be continually involved in global conflicts, like in Syria, without declaring war.

It is clear, the United States should only be in offense, when both Houses of Congress has voted for such. That is, in fact, how wars are won. When members of Congress are forced to vote in favor of war, they get to deal with their constituents. They should have to explain to voters how the lost of their children was justified. With the current approach, members of Congress get to hide behind a president who either acted unilaterally or as part of an international coalition. Either way, US lives are continuously put on the line without clear objectives or a resolve to win. The only way you get that type of “buy in” from the American people, is to have members of Congress vote for every war. Approaching wars like this could prevent future soldiers from being harmed or killed. That is a great way to celebrate future Veterans Days and Memorial Days.