For as long as most of us can remember, America has had two ways of honoring the military veterans who fought its battles in faraway lands.
Some of us, a proportionally small percentage of our population, gather at cemeteries or other commemorative places and follow the lead of a public official in paying tribute to America’s military veterans. President Barack Obama did so Monday, when he placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery and said:
“Today, we gather once more to honor patriots who have rendered the highest service any American can offer this nation — those who fought for our freedom and stood sentry for our security. On this hillside of solemn remembrance and in veterans’ halls and in proud parades across America, we join as one people to honor a debt we can never fully repay.”
However — and let’s be honest with ourselves here — most Americans never pause every Nov. 11 to participate in any ceremony honoring our nation’s military veterans. But that doesn’t mean they are not participating in a ritual observance of Veterans Day.
“VETERANS DAY RUG SALE.” “BUY 1 WINDOW, GET 1 WINDOW 40 PERCENT OFF.”
For millions of Americans, a percentage of our population that is proportionally far larger than those who commemorated at cemeteries or parades, spent part of their Veterans Day national holiday shopping for bargains at our nation’s retail malls. They are well aware that it is Veterans Day, a national holiday — because they have a day off from work (unless they work at a retail store!).
“Warehouse VETERANS’ DAY Sale ... 50 percent or MORE.”
But not many of us know why this particular day, Nov. 11, is designated as Veterans Day — and why America’s presidents always place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at precisely 11 a.m. It is because at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918, the armistice was signed that officially ended World War I, which was long known as “the war to end all wars.”
Of course, the world has endured many wars since then and Americans have fought, sacrificed and died in many battles that were waged in the name of preserving our national security. Once these battles were fought only by men, often men who were drafted into compulsory military service, but now it is important to note that both men and women are now fighting and sometimes dying — and they are doing so not because they were drafted into the military, but because they volunteered to serve.
“Pre BLACK FRIDAY SPECIALS VETERANS DAY Honoring Armed Forces — an additional 10 percent off with a Valid Military ID.”
We should find the time in our non-busy days off to pause and pay a full and much-deserved tribute to all the men and women who safeguard our homeland by volunteering to join and fight in America’s military services.
Here, for once, our elected officials can volunteer to lead by example. Let them lead all Americans in volunteering to show our appreciation for our military veterans by volunteering on every Nov. 11 to help veterans who are in great need, who are perhaps homeless or jobless.
We should not regulate or legislate mandatory retail store closings Nov. 11. But we can at least ask our retailers to not exploit this one day that honors all who serve in the military by turning it into just one more day of commercial excess.
And we must exercise the one option over which we have ultimate control: We can honor those who served in our military by just saying no to shopping, not today, to retailers who dangle sales before us like fishermen casting glittering lures.
We can all commemorate Nov. 11 by at least halting our compulsion to celebrate with ritual conspicuous consumption. Just that one day.
Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service.