the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month
November 11, 2017 2:30 PM   Subscribe

Not Your Messiah, Peter Lucier, for The Revealer
The language that Marines use about death is revealing. The radio code for a dead casualty when I was in Afghanistan was “hero.” It suggested to me something about the nature of service, and sacrifice. Growing up Catholic, the idea of a blood sacrifice, a human sacrifice that could save and redeem, was familiar to me. Above every chalkboard in my grade school was the image of our Christ, crucified. Now, my dead friend was the lamb burnt whole, the crucified bloody savior.
He walked an 800 meter Via Dolorosa that morning, not knowing that the path would end in his death. He walked, as he always had, boldly in front of the patrol, a point man, clearing a path for those who followed behind with his own footprints. His inauspicious cross was a flag planted in the ground, with Taliban scrawl, connected to a pressure release IED. We adore you, oh Christ and we praise you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.
How To Talk To A Veteran
This Veterans Day, the country will pause to honor those that have served in the U.S. military — including more than 2.7 million veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Yet, as many have noted, fewer than 1 percent of Americans serve in the military today, and they are growing increasingly distinct and isolated from the remaining 99 percent. Most Americans hold the men and women who have fought in these wars in high personal esteem, yet often struggle to connect with this new generation of veterans.
Starting a meaningful conversation with these veterans of our current wars remains extraordinarily difficult for the vast majority of Americans who have no association with the military.
Veterans’ Day Special: An Afghan War Casualty Looks Back and Wonders Why
I was traveling recently, and one day I was in a hotel elevator and a girls’ youth soccer team piled in. Before the door was closed the girl closest to me asked, “Are you a veteran?” She was only about 10 or 11 years old, but my legs were off and I was sitting in my wheelchair so we were about the same height. I looked at her and I answered, “Yes, I was an army officer in Afghanistan.”

She replied with the now customary, “Thank you for your service.” The rest of the girls immediately chimed in with the same. I responded to their kind words, but as the elevator door opened and we went our separate ways, I realized that these children weren’t even born when America first invaded Afghanistan. Our nation has been at war for longer than they’ve been alive.
Jim Wright, Stonekettle Station: Veterans Day 2016 I just don’t have the time or the energy today to crank out another essay. As such, I’m going to recycle last year’s post and go take a nap. Enjoy your day
We are not heroes.

We are not heroes. Most of us anyway, we are simply people like any other, doing the best we can with what we have under difficult circumstance. We came when called and did our duty, each for our own reasons. You don’t have to understand why, just as you may not understand why a fireman would run into a burning building instead in the other direction.

In our country, in a free society, the soldier should be no more revered than any other citizen.

We should respect the warrior, but we should never worship him.
How Veterans Day Can Help Heal A Divided Nation
Veterans And The Health Of The Nation
Conflicted on Veteran's Day
I’m always a little conflicted on Veterans Day.
I’m proud of my time in the military and it is certainly a part of who I am, but that’s all it is, a part. I think this is probably still the way the majority of vets feel, but lately, there seem to be more and more people, both within the veteran community and American society as a whole, that want to isolate and extract the “veteran” portion of the identity and treat that as if it is the only aspect that matters.
This is concerning because it simultaneously leads down two paths: The Hero and The Victim.
posted by the man of twists and turns (26 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
At this later stage in my life, with the country in this strange, sad place I've come to have a change of heart over something that was so important to me as a younger man, the draft. My change of heart is inspired by a generation of chicken hawks and their ilk who seem to have no problem sending someone else off to war, as long as they and theirs can stay home. I am pro draft now. If your sons and daughters could be called up to fight in a foreign country, perhaps you will be less cavalier in your willingness to bloviate and posture, and perhaps even consider diplomacy before resorting to war. And perhaps more people would be willing to hold your feet to the fire when you do posture.
posted by evilDoug at 2:47 PM on November 11, 2017 [12 favorites]

IMHO the best way to support the troops is to never use them.
posted by Talez at 2:58 PM on November 11, 2017 [24 favorites]

"I made a note in my diary on the way here. Simply says...'bugger'."
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 3:09 PM on November 11, 2017 [5 favorites]

Great post, thanks.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 3:10 PM on November 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

“Armistice Day has become Veterans' Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans' Day is not. So I will throw Veterans' Day over my shoulder. Armistice Day I will keep. I don't want to throw away any sacred things.

What else is sacred? Oh, Romeo and Juliet, for instance. And all music is.”

― Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Breakfast of Champions [GoodReads]
posted by lazycomputerkids at 3:18 PM on November 11, 2017 [15 favorites]

Chicks Dig the Uniform, from 2012
My husband, E, has been deployed to Afghanistan for six months. He’s in Helmand province and spends most of his time working with the Afghanistan National Army, near Camp Bastion. He should be home by the end of September. Before he came back on R&R last month, I hadn’t seen any image or recent picture of him since March. That felt particularly strange, in this age of Skype and camera-phones. But even odder are the approximately dozen people who’ve asked me during E’s tour if I’m going out there to visit him. Overall, it’s astonishing the number of people, from acquaintances to call centre staff, who think the level of contact and risk of an infantry officer deployed to a war zone is about the same as someone making a business trip to Barcelona.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:22 PM on November 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

I like to call it Armistice Day, too, in hopes that one day it will be permanent.

When I couldn't remember the exact day I stopped eating meat although I knew it was sometime in the Fall, I chose Armistice Day as the official date to commemorate my rapprochement with animals.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 3:25 PM on November 11, 2017 [9 favorites]

Thank you the man of twists and turns for this great post and the different perspectives from all of these veterans. What's the book that Mr. Wright references in his article? Comments suggest "Starship Troopers."
posted by bendy at 3:42 PM on November 11, 2017

If your sons and daughters could be called up to fight in a foreign country, perhaps you will be less cavalier in your willingness to bloviate and posture, and perhaps even consider diplomacy before resorting to war.

Is that supported by the evidence? There have been a lot less total Americans sent off to war in the few decades post-1970s than in the few decades pre-1970s. The ongoing wars in the Middle East are long, expensive, and tragic, but small in scale compared to Korea or Vietnam.

I wasn't alive then, but it seems like the draft has never been actually equitable; elites have always had a leg up, e.g. college, oddball medical diagnoses, better legal resources, etc. Maybe an actually fair draft would work better for your purpose than the draft-that-was.
posted by value of information at 4:29 PM on November 11, 2017 [4 favorites]

If your sons and daughters could be called up to fight in a foreign country, perhaps you will be less cavalier in your willingness to bloviate and posture, and perhaps even consider diplomacy before resorting to war. And perhaps more people would be willing to hold your feet to the fire when you do posture.

My father received his draft notice 6 months after he had been enlisted in the Navy. My grandfather pretended to be his brother for the draft in 1942. I wasn't drafted when I enlisted in the Marines. Neither were my sister and my many cousins.

The draft, historically, hasn't deterred Americans more warlike ways. The rich will have options and the poor will have to go. But, that's the way it has always been, so.... But, like you, I am largely pro-draft. Veterans benefits are substantial, starting with the GI bill and continuing with VA health benefits. It's not enough, to be sure, don't get me wrong. But if you're coming from dirt poor, military service can help with that.

Plus, I really think you'll get fewer rightwing nutjobs in the military. Or, more likely, at lest have more leftwing nutjobs to offset them.

The thing with America is - we hate having to pay taxes to buy grandmothers heart medicine. But there is always money in the Banana Stand for Freedom Bombs. We love our war porn and our newfound cudgel in hero worship and it's use to enforce behaviors.

I avoid mentioning my service these days. The lionization of having been enlisted is deeply weird to me. I was in more danger, and provided more benefit, as a wildland firefighter and nobody ever stops me in Cabelas to thank me for that. Maybe it's my Catholic upbringing - your good works should stand without notice or acclaim. I just find this whole hero worship (as we gut benefits and refuse help) self serving and vacuous.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 4:35 PM on November 11, 2017 [20 favorites]

I'm a veteran.
Today I was in Vancouver for a comic book convention. Despite living in Seattle for a long time, I've only been in Vancouver a few times, and this was my first experience with Remembrance Day. At 11am, basically everything stops for two minutes of silence. Even the comic convention ground to a complete, respectful halt. And then, when it was over, life moved on. It immediately struck me as being more moving and more meaningful than any of the Veterans Day observances I've seen in the United States. Not drawn out, not gushing with praise, just thoughtful and respectful for a moment and then moving on.

I'm back in Seattle now. I could go get a free lunch at Ivar's if I dig out my discharge papers or some other "proof of service." What kills me is that all those homeless vets could probably really use the help of a nice cooked meal (or three), but they probably don't have access to their DD-214s.

And when I mentioned this online, I was encouraged to go get that meal and give it to a homeless vet. But y'know what? I'd rather just do cash, which I often do, because they know what they need better than I do. And I don't care if that homeless person is a vet or not. We should do a better job of taking care of everyone. I think vets should get free health care, yeah, but then I figure everybody should regardless of service or not.

A little thought and sentiment is nice. The government should live up to the things it offers for service. Past that, we really shouldn't be treated any differently from anyone else.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 4:49 PM on November 11, 2017 [27 favorites]

That first article was the best article on Veterans Day I have ever read my life.

Also, scaryblackdeath, just as an FYI, if you orally verify the homeless veteran, and have your own proof of service, most places will let you get away with it to bring them in. Or at least, they don’t want to argue about it with like 50 vets in earshot. I personally found people appreciate it, both the meal and the company.
posted by corb at 5:07 PM on November 11, 2017 [4 favorites]

The draft, being talked about as a possible way to encourage parents of children old enough to serve to behave differently politically, seen from the point of view of one of the very draftable young people in this country?

Please don't use the lives of mostly poor people as a theoretical political tool? Because I'm certain it wouldn't work and I'm certain that the draft means that kids who don't want to fight or die at all do fight and die.
Please stop bringing it up, older people? If it wouldn't apply to you, just don't? We got rid of it for a good reason, no one should be forced into military service against their will, especially not in a military that loves to ship people everywhere to get shot at.

My mom's dad enlisted in WW2 with the air corp to avoid being drafted into infantry service, my dad's dad was drafted during Korea into the army. Both of them hated and resented their periods of service, as neither of them really wanted to go. Both of them told all their descendants to stay as far away from the military as possible. Neither succeeded, but all my uncles and cousins who served had a real choice in the matter. Most of them seem pretty okay with their service, and those who don't, it isn't because they were forced into it.
posted by neonrev at 5:13 PM on November 11, 2017 [11 favorites]

The most touching veterans day message I've seen in a long time, if not ever, came from the lady who did our CSA program a few years ago. She is through and through liberal but in a respectful/intelligent manner for the most part.... Except she doesn't let bullshit stand uncontested.

Anyway, her post was basically 'I can't sit quietly by as people worship overmuch this whole war thing. No one knows this because he doesn't (and won't) talk about it but my husband wasn't ever deployed to combat but he was an army medic during the Vietnam years. He was a hero working in the burn unit that treated the men that came home wounded and dying and he held them as they either died or got better, either way they were in agony and suffering terribly. War taken as an impersonal and 'patriotic' thing isn't ok and we should never forget that.'
posted by RolandOfEld at 6:00 PM on November 11, 2017 [6 favorites]

Is that supported by the evidence?

I suspect not, but I am happy to be proven wrong. The baby boom generation has been culturally dominant for half a century now, and politically prominent for decades. Of course, in the US, Vietnam was their war. Three presidents (Clinton, Bush The Younger, and the current occupant) were the right age to serve there but none did. More damningly, of the scores or maybe hundreds of boomers who have served in the senate, there have been, what, six combat veterans of Vietnam (Kerry, Kerrey, McCain, Robb, Pressler, and maybe one more I cannot recall)?

Looking back to WWII, you had six presidents in a row who saw active duty (Eisenhower through Carter) plus GHW Bush and I don’t know how many members of Congress.

I think when it came to the draft in the Vietnam era, there were a lot of fortunate sons. I am not sure the 1% have less clout now than they did fifty years ago.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:58 PM on November 11, 2017 [5 favorites]

How can I go from being a priest of American religion, to just a fellow believer?
Load your 401K up with DFEN, sit back, and wait for Trump to start the next military adventure.
posted by Coventry at 9:17 PM on November 11, 2017

the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month

'n fact, I almost didn't get here at all.
posted by carping demon at 9:47 PM on November 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

I don't blame veterans but I'm sick of these stupid wars and I think the world would be a better place if they hadn't been out fighting for the last 15 years, and I can't glorify it anymore.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 9:52 PM on November 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

More damningly, of the scores or maybe hundreds of boomers who have served in the senate, there have been, what, six combat veterans of Vietnam (Kerry, Kerrey, McCain, Robb, Pressler, and maybe one more I cannot recall)?

Max Cleland is worth recalling, especially the way he lost his seat in 2002 when chicken hawk Republican Saxby Chambliss (who opted out of Vietnam) ran ads questioning his patriotism.

Republican Senator Chuck Hagel also was also a Vietnam vet who went on to serve as Obama’s Secretary of Defense. It seems to me that veterans, for whatever reason, are more willing to work across party lines.
posted by TedW at 4:46 AM on November 12, 2017 [4 favorites]

From afar, the whole "Thank you for your service" thing seems to exist for the same purpose as "thoughts and prayers", a conditioned response to acknowledge something exists while doing fuck-else.
Don't bother thinking if VA is well funded, don't bother thinking if some public event with some grunt is just pandering or PR, don't bother thinking if so many you people in uniform is a good thing, don't bother thinking if the military is actually defending the "freedoms of the american people" or just american corporations' interest, just say what you were conditioned to do and move on.

Here it's the same thing with firemen. A different part of the country burns every summer and from July to October every politician and afternoon show has a hard-on for them. Then the weather cools off and nobody cares, until there's a landslide or flood. They remain underfunded, underequipped, and even small sperks like fee exemption at the public health services was taken away under the guise of austerity (although the exemption returned last year).
posted by lmfsilva at 5:07 AM on November 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

I was alive for the actual end of the draft. The draft was not equitable. The sitting president got out of it with supposed bone-spurs. Rich men could always get out of the draft.
Meanwhile young working class men were sent to Vietnam-Nam.
The draft in and of itself never turned anyone against war. It also never increased support for a war. The military itself doesn’t want the draft back. Overall they find that volunteers are better soldiers and sailors.
The end of the draft was a very happy day for me and I hope we never see it back.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 11:47 AM on November 12, 2017

You're Welcome. Yeah, I know I'm not a fireman.

Have a nice day.

Anyhow, fuck them commies. I'm glad they no longer pose an existential problem to the free world. I'll let you sort it out--but please remember that we're the ones who killed the commies, our fathers killed Tojo and Hitler, and our kids killed Ben Laden and Hussein. The guys who fought in Korea don't count--they never have, and it's just plain insulting to pretend you care now, just because you want to get a good seat on the bandwagon.

I would be pleased if you actually had a vision of what it is you are thanking me for before you speak. I don't ask that you actually know anything about the forces that let me grab my little piece of history--Hell, I have only a sketchy vision of all that myself. If you offer me unconditional thanks I'm more likely to run away screaming than respond gracefully. If you offer me conditional thanks, then you need to lay out your qualifications so that I can understand where you are coming from, at which point we're likely to get into a convoluted discussion that both of us will quickly tire of trying tidy up. Rightful war? Rightful conduct in a war? Or do you just want to smell the blood?

Welcome Home seems to work. You don't need to be glad about where I've been.
posted by mule98J at 12:42 PM on November 12, 2017 [4 favorites]

our fathers killed Tojo and Hitler

Yes and no. Jimmy Carr remarked, "Say what you will about Hitler, but he did kill Hitler."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:50 PM on November 12, 2017 [4 favorites]

"Bullet Holes in the Sky" [is] a startling account that [Mary] Gauthier penned with Navy veteran Jamie Trent who served in Desert Storm. “We tried to tell the story of a veteran, sitting in a booth at the Waffle House, watching the Veterans Day Parade roll by,” Gauthier tells EW of the song’s origin. “The feelings deep inside that veteran are complex, difficult to express. There’s pride in being of service. Faith in God. Patriotism. Sorrow, for those who were lost. And the feeling of being sadly resigned to the fact that these wars never end, they just keep coming.”
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 10:16 PM on November 12, 2017

I'm married to a retired Army master sergeant. We live near Fort Bragg, NC, home of the 82 Airborne Corps and Special Operations Command. He's affected by his service, and we know many, many others who have physical and mental scars. I don't know one of them who thinks "Thank you for your service" is anything but awkward for the soldier.

"Thank you for your service" is worth exactly what we pay for it, nothing. Let's have full funding for the VA (fuck you, Congress). Let's have a fully staffed, qualified diplomatic corps (fuck you, Trump).
posted by corvikate at 6:59 AM on November 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

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