A well intended radio talk show host wished her listeners a happy Memorial Day. This got me to thinking about how things change with the passing of generations. I am at the very front end of the baby boomers, and those similarly situated were affected by World War II in their own personal ways. There probably aren’t many who didn’t have a parent, relative and/or someone they knew that didn’t serve in the war. Memorial Day parades and events were much more somber, perhaps because events were so recent, and because veterans and families that lost members in the war were so prominent.
It was almost a rite of passage for the early baby boomers and those born during the war to enlist after high school. Others didn’t mind being drafted. And still others went on to college preparing to serve as officers. Vietnam began to change that mindset. Veterans of that war came home and quietly blended back into the society that didn’t appreciate their service and went on with their lives. It wasn’t until Ronald Reagan publicly thanked them for their service that we saw a shift into how Vietnam Veterans were treated. But that war also led to the creation of the voluntary military and did away with one of the greatest levelers that American society ever experienced: the draft.
Today’s fighting men and women are respected, receive accolades almost wherever they go, receptions wait for them at airports, and there are legions of stories of Americans committing random acts of kindness for individual service members. All as it should be. But there is another side to all of this that is largely unspoken, and it is a dark side. Few today even know anyone personally that has worn the uniform in recent years or served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Large numbers, though, proudly display bumper stickers that say, “Support our troops” or some other patriotic slogan. Be sure that I am not critical of those who do this or go out of their way to put up the American Flag on holidays. Each of us has our own reasons and ways of demonstrating our love for this great country. What is troubling, though, is that because so few Americans have a personal stake in today’s wars, there is no commitment from our elected officials in Washington to support paying our troops what they are worth while they serve, too few dollars appropriated for our wounded who will carry the scars of war to the end, and no interest in providing a meaningful GI Bill that would make it easier for veterans to get a decent education. When have you heard of a jobs program for veterans that actually has teeth and not lip service from our politicians? And the reason for this is that there is no real outcry, no movement from the citizens to demand this of our officials, and that’s because too few are personally affected by military service. Could it be because our citizenry doesn’t want to pay for the costs of war? Would not a war tax be appropriate that would fund any war our country committed to, which would provide the quality medical care that the wounded deserve, many needing it for life?
May Memorial Day be a day of fun, family and friends. But may it also be one that we reflect not only on those who never came home from our nation’s wars, but a day that we think about the cost of war, and that each of us owes a contribution toward that debt.