Tomorrow is Veterans Day

Tomorrow is Veterans Day, and right now I’m feeling raw. Six years of service to my country as a soldier, six more before that working the front lines of public lands and somehow its become pointless. All that sacrifice. While the rest of you were out there getting college degrees, I was up reading over radio intercepts from DPRK, trying to puzzle together what the fuck those assholes might be about.

I gave my oath to defend the Constitution and this land ultimately because I grew up with a strong land ethic. I read Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac while huddled against a rock for shelter in Colorado’s Flat Tops Wilderness. My radio had died two days before, a storm had moved in, and all I could do at the point was wait it out. Several months later, with my new wife, I found myself back in Florida searching for work with health insurance. My youngest brother had signed up, and damn they made it sound like all you’d have to do was work hard. I’d done that, months wondering the wilderness picking up hunting trash and endless summer days swinging a Pulaski. So I took my work ethic, my young wife and, my land ethic and I signed up expecting that someday I’d return to the wilderness.

My relationship with that woman, my foot, my time, and so much more of was burnt in the tabernacle of service to my country. Until now, I’ve been at peace with this.

I’ve recently been told “Wait and see. Everything is bound to work out for the best.”

Veteran’s Day is the anniversary of the signing of the armistice, which ended the World War I hostilities between the Allied nations and Germany in 1918. Veterans are thanked for their services to the United States on Veterans Day. Veterans Day honors those who served the United States in all conflicts, especially veterans.

How can this be so? Where is the honor in this?  A man who lied and manipulated his way into office. The Electoral College intends to install a man into office who doesn’t understand the concept of sacrifice. Who, unmindfully, has the land ethic of the Once-ler. A man pathologically unwilling to share. A person with whom I have no common values. Someone as to be so unlike me that our only commonality is the shared genetic heritage of our species and the randomness of the geographical land of birth.

Typically, I’d be writing to ask that people hold their thanks. Frankly, it makes me uncomfortable because it feels like a request. Maybe you want to know what I did, where I’ve been, who I saw die; I don’t know, but the request is made when you say “thank you for your service.” I hear the anticipation in your voices. It’s not a movie, it doesn’t work that way. When I left the service of my country, I left a broken and desperately screwed up person. Not the same guy that gave his oath six years before.

It’s taken me sixteen years and a lot of hard work to feel “normal” around the majority of you. I find grace only far beyond the things of man. In the wilderness. And for a man who holds this as his essential ethic how could I want the esteem of a people that would elect a man with no respect?

This May Become a Regular Thing

So, it came and went. That special day when we’re all supposed to get together and remember those who selflessly gave so much for our benefit. And now with Veterans Day safely behind us for another year we can go back to worrying about the President quoting scripture. Or better yet we can just natter about how morally corrupt we’ve become because we cannot feel comfortable in our own skin when someone wishes us “Happy Holidays.”

Still a Thing

Nothing ever changes, does it? For one brief moment in time every year we pay lip service to vets and then happily and somewhat idiotically proceed through life as if none of that really matters. A thank you, a hand shake and a wreath somehow make up for the debt we owe.

We’d like to imagine that there are “programs” in place to help. However, the Veteran’s Administration isn’t really set up to help, it’s an organization so full of loopholes, catch-22’s and caveats it makes the Army’s “hurry-up, and wait” bullshit appear almost efficient. This despite the best intentions of the people working and continuing to serve therein.

Right now Republicans are overly worried about too many brown people getting into their country; they remain predictably and ignominiously indifferent to the 22 vets per day that end their own suffering. Democrats? Yeah, like anyone cares. Had they a coherent platform which demanded a minimum bar of social justice they wouldn’t have been so sorely trounced in this last election cycle. Yet, with winter coming down in suffocating waves of cold there will predictably be at least 50,000 veterans sleeping under bridges and tucked away behind brambles. Those mules cannot even bring our plight to the table for debate, let alone do anything about it. The American political system done let us down.

Not that I believe such an indictment could ever metamorphose into prognosis, but this systemic malfunction of our society, I believe, prognosticates our demise. Here in America there seems to be a fundamental lack of concern. We don’t repair our bridges, we don’t take care of our veterans. And we’re predictably surprised when the former collapses from below us, and the latter turns and bites.

I-35W St. Anthony Bridge collapse in Minnesota, 2008

So yeah, I’m going to bring this up over and over again. Often, I feel like the operations guy at the software company who has to perpetually harp on the idea that system maintenance is critical and necessary component of expected up-time. If you don’t do what is necessary to maintain what you’ve already got, don’t be surprised when it fails making anything impossible. American’s love the idea that they are somehow exceptional. But we cannot rise above everyone else if our base is crumbling. Veterans, yeah these people are our foundation. But they’re just people; not heroes, not fantastical Übermensch on the march. People with failings, who lack vision, and most often, people who’ve lost their tribe.

Stop Thanking Me

Here in The United States of America it is Veterans’ Day, a public holiday held on the anniversary of the end of World War I (November 11) to honor US veterans and victims of all wars, and I’m staying in because of it. Today is the day all good citizens are supposed to remember those who served and defended our country in its many times of need. We’re supposed to honor and even venerate these people that made various sorts of sacrifices so that we might live good, meaningful, potentially happy lives. It is also the day when strong armed hand shakes and meaningful looks in the eye accompany perfidious sentiment intended to seem patriotic.

I realize that many of my brothers and sisters in arms may not share my view on this, but I for one am tired of entertaining this sort of duplicitous behavior. It’s not that I wont meet your gaze or shake your hand, I was raised to be polite, but, always at the back of my brain, is the thought, “if you want to thank me do something to contribute yourself.” That’s because at the heart of my patriotism is the notion that we’re all playing for the same team. And from this perspective there is still a lot left to do before we obtain that set of national goals.

For instance, one in ten homeless people is a veteran. That’s something like 60,000 people living on the streets for no good reason. And these people who gave so much to you are just a fraction of the total number of people, your brothers and sisters in citizenship, who also must live nasty, short, and brutish lives. This nation has a class system and these people have become untouchables. We ostracize and segregate in so many ways, but to do so because of economic solvency makes us base and without compassion. This is not a social system I signed up to defend. Want to thank me? Feed, cloth, and show some compassion to a homeless person.

In the Vice President’s speech, given today at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery, he called us the “spine of the nation.” He also calls us “the most trusted and tested” people yet the rate of unemployment for veterans perpetually exceeds that of any other demographic. The fact that this nation has unemployed people, people that want to work but who cannot find a job, seems ridiculous to me. That our economy actually forces this reality on so many and we accept this myth as truth is even worse. We’ve got a long history of solving these sorts of problems, and our nation is in dire need of large scale public works efforts. What’s lacking is the political will, the same will the propelled so many of us to our service in the first place, to get these things done. Want to thank me? Employ someone who learned to work via service instead of someone who took that time to obtain a fancy degree. Better yet, show some intestinal fortitude and resolve to create a fully employed society.

I could go on and on, pointing out all the ways in which American’s dishonor the legacy their veterans fought in one way or anther to preserve, but that’s not the point of this exercise. Rather, I’d love to make you aware that you too can contribute to the welfare of this nation. Service, does not require you to take an oath or to bear arms. No one is asking you to sit exposed on a two way range or lose a limb for the good of your country. If you want to thank me, figure out how you can help. Right now and right here. So what do I want to hear on Veterans’ Day? How about “to thank a veteran, I volunteered to help solve some problem that’s important to me.”