How to Really Honor Veterans

by Joe Scarry

Every year at this time — as the “11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month” approaches — I think about a letter that my grandfather received when he was serving in France during WWI.

The letter to “Granddaddy” Melker was from the pastor of his church in the anthracite coal mining town of Eastern Pennsylvania that he came from.  In page after page of small talk, the pastor apologizes for failing to write for so long and then builds up to the point of the letter.  “A terrible disease has struck the area . . . people call it the “flu” . . . many in our own community have fallen to it . . . including someone very dear to you, someone in your own family . . . I’m talking about your sister, Margaret.”

I am struck to the core every time I read those words. I don’t want to imagine what it is like to be in the midst of the carnage of war and then be blindsided by the kind of pain enclosed in that letter, to boot. For me, Martin’s experience reading that letter in France stands for the experience of every veteran.

Often it takes something very local, very specific, for any one of us to grasp the pain brought about by our society-wide, even global, injustices.  For me, the words in that letter epitomize all the pain that we, as a society, allow our young men — and now, women — to suffer when we induce them to go be our soldiers.

Can we translate the personal into the communal? Can our wish that things could be different for one person find expression in social action?

One way to do this is simply to be honest about the true costs of war, including the long term health consequences for people who serve in the military, and the corresponding long-term costs that our society must commit to bear. (And I am reserving for another time the discussion of the long term health consequences for people who serve are on the receiving end of U.S. war and occupation, and the corresponding long-term costs that our society must commit to bear as a result of that.)

How long-term? “Studies show that the peak years for government health care and disability compensation costs for veterans from past wars came 30 to 40 years after those wars ended. For Vietnam, that peak has not been reached.” (See “Cost of Treating Veterans Will Rise Long Past Wars”)

Here’s a modest proposal: instead of talking about the economic stimulus created by military spending in our congressional districts, and all the “good jobs” that high-tech military production creates, let’s start a responsible accounting of the money that we promise to spend caring for and healing the veterans we’ve already caused to be injured. Let’s draw a line in the sand and be honest about the debt we are already obligated to repay. And then do the hard work to assure that the money is there to pay those costs.

We are a country that has a hard time imagining the anguish and suffering that we cause as a result of our addiction to the use of force and war. Maybe the best place to start is to get real about the financial consequences.

Related posts

Consider the moment in the film All Quiet On the Western Front when the young soldier returns to visit his old high school. The soldier visits the class of the teacher who had goaded him and many of his classmates to enlist in the first place. Encouraged by his teacher to tell about the “glories” of being a soldier, he delivers a damning verdict . . . .

(See Back to School (All Quiet On the Western Front))

The recurring theme of the The Hurt Locker is “We’re done here.” The tension of each encounter with a bomb is followed by the moment when the hero successfully defuses the bomb, and then announces “We’re done here.” The deeper theme of the movie is psychological: the solder is addicted to the excitement. He is unable to go on with a normal life. He keeps going back, again and again, to Iraq, to defuse more bombs. (HE is NEVER “done”.)

(See DU: Will we ever be able to say “We’re done here” ? )

Today, ALL Americans have been made part of the “kill chain” by high-tech, hyper-modern killing with drones. It’s time for us to see that this new type of killing has put ALL of us behind the trigger. The bad news is drones have made all of us more implicated and culpable than ever. But the good news is that the drones also offer up clear pathway to putting a stop to the immoral, dishonorable, unlawful killing.

(See THIS Memorial Day, Honor the Fallen: STOP Drone Killing! )

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One Response to How to Really Honor Veterans

  1. lonevet2008 says:

    Individuals For Justice report on events last week.

    Going Backwards from Saturday: November 9 th 2013

    We were all going to spend some time thinking about a friend and as Doctor LeRoy Haynes called Fred Bryant, “A Drum-Major for Justice.” Roberto, Laura, Patty and I will remember him as the man who stood on a street corner every month to honor his son, Keaton Otis. Keaton was murdered by the Portland Police in 2010 and Fred held a vigil on the 12 th of the month on 6 th and Halsey demanding an honest investigation. He suffered a stroke and died at Emanuel Hospital on October 29, 2013. Many of us will continue the vigil and pressure to keep Fred’s hope alive. We will meet on the 12 th of November on SE 6 th and Halsey at 6:00 PM to let the city know that the struggle will not end, we will prevail and honor both Keaton and Fred.

    Keep the pressure on, can’t come to the vigil, call the mayor’s office and tell him you want an independent investigation and that you will keep calling every month on the 12 th to let them know who else you called. Use your imagination, County, Blumenauer, The Justice Department, Judge in the civil case against the Portland PD, Merkley and Wyden etc, etc. Individuals For Justice will carry pictures of Fred and Keaton to every county and city council meeting from last week on until there is a real and honest investigation into how a traffic stop that was based on profiling ended up with a young man dead and a police officer wounded. There are too many unanswered questions and they will be answered today, tomorrow or in the coming years but vigil we will and yell for justice we must.

    Friday, November 8 th was good on the Hawthorne Bridge because we, Individuals For Justice did not get rained on, well, not much anyway. The cars beep and people stopped to read our signs that cover lots of topics, homelessness, water, wars, NSA, and even ODOT. We gather every Friday about 4:00 PM on 1 st and Madison on the SW side of the bridge and have a time. We invite you to join us; there are things that must be said.

    I also got to visit with a wonderful woman who was in the hospital and is recovering nicely. Sara is now home, she makes me look like a lazy bum with all the things she does for peace and humanity. She is Sara Hobbs, and she is my friend and companion in causing trouble for those who make decisions. I also got to ride the tram for the first time and that was a treat. Visiting a hospital after my near death at Adventist and Providence is strange but I do enjoy leaving any hospital. Thursday it was a morning with the Ladies of the County. I had a strange experience this time around, they had an honor guard from PSU ROTC, and they decided to do a very militaristic celebration for Veterans Day. They brought in the flags and played the National Anthem for all the people in the room, (maybe 100) stood and saluted, I could not get up!

    Veterans Day, or as I now call it, “buy a mattress cheap day” was once called Armistice Day. It was and still is in some places in Europe, a day to remember the end of a terrible and stupid war called WW1. On the 11th month, 11 th day, 11 th hour there was silence on the western front, (most of it anyway). We will gather at Pioneer Square and stand in silence and maybe ring a bell for all who gave their lives for what they believed in. For you to honor this veteran, just stop going to war. War for me is stupid and only feeds the rich with the bodies of the poor. To have celebrations on Veterans Day is a disgrace to the memory of all who served. War is never about glory, it is about death and destruction. What this county did and what we have reduced the original intent of the day is just sad. The reasons I did not get up for the flag and national anthem are: Our drones killing over 300 children, (that we know), invasion of Iraq, torture, Guantanamo, Black Ops, assassinations, corruption in our government from President Obama down to our city council. ETC. ETC.

    Wednesday, Nov 7 was just a routine day at the city council meeting, another day of the rubber stamp group of people who almost never question what is happening, they just say, “Aye” There was one funny moment when Commission Nick Fish and I agreed on something, there was the sound of thunder in the room, hail fell from the skies, thought I saw a frog or two, but that was just mayor hales looking stern. The issue had to do with the use of land along the waterfront and a group of nice and influential rich folks wanting to use the land to build a Marine Museum. Commission Fish pointed out this presentation needed more input from many more people and he was right. When I said I agreed with him, the words had some trouble getting out, but after a few tries I did get the words, “I agree with Comm. Fish……….”

    I had to hang around because there was a press conference called by the Dept. Of Justice and mayor hales at 1300. (1:00PM) I had my “Fire Mike Reese T-shirt on and that would be fun to stand near the conference. The first person to see me was Daryl Tuner from the notorious PPA. He is a big guy and towered over me when he came up to me and demanded from me to explain my t-shirt. I told him the reason that only Mike Reese’s name appeared is that I could not get his and the entire inner circle of cops who serve around Reese to fit on the shirt; I settled for just the chief’s name, he left. I was not approached by anyone else until the US Attorney, District of Oregon, Amanda Marshall looked at me and said, “Nice meeting you”, my reply was, “Good Job on the press conference that was the biggest bunch of BS I have heard in years, the reporters were completely snowed by you.” She and her staff left—oops.

    Tuesday night was a presentation by Veterans For Peace, past president Elliott Adams on how to organize people to close Gitmo. We disagreed on tactics and I was a little rude, but want to hear what we are doing wrong, not what we are doing right; because we are losing and that has me nervous. I am wondering how many national groups have been co-opted. Calling congress may be something that some people like doing, I don’t. Writing letters to politicians is a waste of time. Being logical or presenting good arguments does not work. The Courts have just about abandoned us. Obama in the White House has been a disaster for the progressive community and Hillary is next and she will invade at the drop of a hat. The dems have become the war mongers of this era. The repubs are just nuts!

    There are so many issues now, why are you not in the streets yelling?

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