The U.S. is deeply embedded in the mythology of the heroism of the warrior culture. There is a lot of rhetoric about the courage and sacrifice of the those who have fought (versus those who have served) for our "freedom." Never is that "freedom" defined. However, it is true that many have served - willingly or not - under the belief they our protecting our "freedom" and "our way of life." I will not besmirch those sacrifices, nor will I be silent on the utterly shameful way that both the government and the people of the United States have met the needs of those who have served. We call them "heroes," but as a nation living with heroes is a more difficult task than remembering (once in a while) those who have died.
Many return from their service transformed All too often, they are too uncomfortably transformed to fit into the "civilian" flow of life. For some, it is more comfortable to return to bloody combat and the risk of death, than to return to friends and family, and co-workers, and a clueless populace. The adrenaline, and violence, and death-linked comradery is a real embrace. The invisibility and lack of understanding of "home" is a different kind of death.
For some, there is no return to war zones, and for better or worse they wrestle the demons and some "win" and some "lose." Some rebuild their lives. Some end up on the streets, or in the jails, or numbed by drugs of choice. Many, and certainly their families, cling with all their might to the comfortable myth that "it was all for a grander purpose."
I have heroes who are veterans. I have watched many face the demons of war (and military "actions") that remain with them - often for a life time. One of the sacrifices they made is the tattering of a glamorized entertainment myth of war and fighting in the face of bloody reality and burned indelibly upon their mind's eyes, and upon their hearts. It is a cost beyond bearing, and one that goes virtually unacknowledged by the populace.
Instead, they all too frequently face a betrayal by those societally tasked to know - and support - them. Namely, the Department of Defense, and the various military services, and the Veterans Administration. Conditions such as PTSD and psychological issues are frequently ignored, or those who have served are dissuaded from pursuing services. Then there are those other things that the military does not want to acknowledge, and therefore refuses to provide service - the "atomic" vets, agent orange, depleted uranium, Gulf War Syndrome, the effects of vaccinations, the paltry benefits left to the families of the fallen, the list goes on and on. The realities of serving - or surviving serving.
Once a year (twice if we count Memorial Day) the nation is called on to recognize these heroes - standing and fallen. This sanitized recognition does not mean embracing the reality of the service or the true sacrifices made. This sanitized recognition does not even recognize the human and national costs of that service. Certainly, nothing is said in this war glorifying culture regarding what the best recognition should really be - a commitment to ending war and working for peace. Yes, peace is work - ongoing work. However many veterans DO make this commitment, and for veterans that commitment comes at a higher price than for most who have never served.
So I want to say thank you to the most courageous of veterans who I know - those veterans who struggle for peace. They have fought, and continue to fight, incredible internal battles while waging the most significant of struggles - the struggle for peace. Thank you veterans for this ongoing service to an ungrateful nation. Thanks also to those veterans organizations that struggle untiringly for peace and truth, and support those who have served in this critical struggle.
Please thank a veteran, and thank a Veteran's organization such as those below. Importantly, also commit to fighting for veteran's rights and to creating a world where such sacrifices are never needed again.Winter Soldier: Iraq & Afghanistan