On Veterans Day, it’s typical and appropriate to see countless homages, salutes, and earnest formal and informal appreciation ceremonies for military servicemen and servicewomen in every electronic and paper medium that we encounter. It’s part of who we are. It’s part of how we got where we are.
I get it. We all get it.
Sometimes, however, Veterans Day observances annoy me. And not because I’m unpatriotic. I simply feel conflicted.
I’ve been told — or, perhaps, better put, “corrected” — that America is not the land of the free, home of the brave, but, in fact, the land of the free because of the brave.
Is this really true?
I don’t think most folks would find my answer or my questions very patriotic.
Last Jan. 16 marked the 30th anniversary of the six-week Gulf War in Iraq. This past September marked the 20th anniversary of 9/11, which resulted in the invasion of Iraq (again, in 2003), which had nothing to do with the 9/11 attack, so let’s be honest. Back then, were the national pep rallies and resultant increased military enlistments to wage these wars a product of bravery or military-industrial complex knavery? Or simple dupery?
Former vice president — and Halliburton magnate — Dick Cheney is smiling.
Should I defend my country, right or wrong? Seems like that’s a painful mistake we’ve made in the past.
Should I simply love it or leave it?
Philosophically speaking, the infamous, pro-war “Love It or Leave” charge is a classic false dilemma. It reduces an issue to a puerile, simplistic either/or proposition. Americans really seem to love simplistic either/or propositions, but they’re hardly ever useful or productive — or correct.
World War II can be viewed as a legitimate, necessary either/or equation that we, in the end — or ’til the end — needed to answer and did answer. And arguably well. Except in the end. The use of nuclear weapons on unsuspecting civilian population centers was arguably the greatest single-instant terrorist act in human history.
The Korean War was hardly legitimate. The Vietnam War was entirely illegitimate and could be argued to comprise a long-running war crime or a regimen of crimes against humanity. Reagan’s four-day invasion of Grenada (ridiculously code-named Operation Urgent Fury) in 1983 was little more than a pathetic press-op to cover for cutting and running in Lebanon after the American embassy in Beirut was bombed a few months earlier. And the last two Gulf wars in the Middle East were simply errands for Big Oil (the second offering a nice a little side-dash for the massive naturally occurring lithium deposit in Afghanistan).
I try not to have a problem with folks saying “Thank you for your service” to veterans in person, on TV, radio, podcast, campaign trail, whatever, but the phrasing sometimes bothers me. Take this past Veterans Day, for example.
On one mildly interesting Texana page on a popular social platform, I encountered an image of a soldier with a caption featuring the proud proclamation, “Truly we stand on the shoulders of giants. My father in Vietnam, 1967.”
This is where I get into trouble.
I appreciate the platform administrator’s father’s service, but give me a break. If there were any giants in America’s war against Vietnam, they were all Goliath. And Vietnam’s David smote us in a poetic and Biblical sense.
In his farewell address 60 years ago, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned against a new threat to American democracy: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
We didn’t heed Ike’s warning, and, for the last three decades, warmongers have called the shots.
Hell, ask Barack Obama, the former Droner-in-Chief. Do you think he would have survived a stand against American Empire?
Lucky for the military-industrial complex, Americans have short memories and weren’t real astute students of history to begin with, but our nation’s belligerent foreign diplomacy makes us look like giant, ignorant, insufferable assholes who stood on the shoulders of more giant, ignorant, insufferable assholes.
And this is where I get into more trouble.
With all due respect, most of the time when we thank our veterans for their “service,” we’re not really thanking them for their dedication, commitment, or sacrifice to worthy or even just causes. We’re simply thanking them for putting their lives, limbs, and sanity on the line for our bullshit.
Shame on us. — E.R. Bills
E.R. Bills is the author of Fear and Loathing in the Lone Star State (2021) and The 1910 Slocum Massacre: An Act of Genocide in East Texas (2014).
This column reflects the opinions of the author and not the Fort Worth Weekly. To submit a column, please email Editor Anthony Mariani at Anthony@FWWeekly.com. Columns will be gently edited for factuality and clarity.