Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori
“It is sweet and right to die for one’s country,” wrote the Roman poet Horace in his ‘Odes.’ The Roman army still influences our world today; its conquests built an empire. But it could not stop Rome from rotting from within.
Monday was Memorial Day in the U.S. While we can hope to spend some time in quiet reflection of the people who gave their lives for our country, it mostly serves as the start of the summer season. There are many tributes to America’s fallen on my social media feeds, but the posts that feature barbecues and sunbathing are more abundant.
The American public is tragically disconnected from our own military. I count myself among the guilty. I know several veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. I wrote and sent them things while they were away. But had you asked me where exactly they were and when, I couldn’t tell you.
As the public flag-waving gets more fervent, the actual involvement with our military becomes more detached. We have had an all-volunteer military for several decades now. Not since the Vietnam War have Americans been called up in a draft. When I turned 18 I had to register for the Selective Service and I still have my card someplace. While still the law, draft numbers are lower; we don’t have reminders to register. The military is simply not a reality for wide swaths of our population.
It is easy to wave a flag and heap praise on people who are gone. It’s a lot tougher to turn that sentiment into real action that helps the living. As a country, we’re falling short on both grounds.
My brother knows people who live six hours driving time away from the Veterans Affairs hospital where he goes regularly. Some take hours-long bus trips to the VA only to find that their medical appointments were canceled without notification. Veterans have been known to commit suicide in the parking lots of VA hospitals; this phenomenon doesn’t surprise my brother one bit. He’s been negotiating the bureaucracy of the Veteran’s Administration for the better part of the last 20 years, with an increased intensity over the last 10. He was recently ordered to have an unnecessary EKG done so he could get a refill of medicine he needs. He knows his prescription regimen better than the rotating doctors and orderlies assigned to help him; and every so often he has to essentially retrain the people who should know how to help him.
We’ve trained soldiers who can survive poison gas and terrorist bombs but not our own healthcare system. This would be inexcusable in a second-world country, let alone the richest country in the world. And the VA didn’t suddenly collapse; it’s been infamously bad for generations now.
Let’s remember the people we’ve lost, but let’s also try to make time to listen to the living.
Our commitment to our country and our fallen veterans has got to spread far beyond the traditional ceremony and observances if our patriotism is to have lasting meaning. Let’s start today.
Remembering on Memorial Day
As someone who was rejected by all four major branches of the military in one form or another, I don’t have much authority to preach on about the sacrifices made by our armed services.
I have family and friends who have and continue to serve in the military, and I am very grateful for the sacrifices that they’ve made and for the fact that all I’ve known personally have come back alive and in one piece. I still know people who get deployed and they and their families go through a lot that most of us aren’t willing to go through.
Most citizens don’t serve in the military and are far removed from the everyday toils and struggle of the people who wear the uniform, and that’s a mistake. It’s a mistake to remove the burden of national security from the common person.
This country was forged by common citizens, and the first people who gave their lives to create this country were outlaws using illegal weapons. Nothing could be less American than becoming a slobbering hag enthralled with anyone in a uniform. Memorial Day honors brave men and women who died in service to our country, in or out of uniform.
“Supporting the troops” has becoming such a meaningless phrase that it includes anyone who sticks and American flag on their lawn and stands for the national anthem. I’ve been to baseball games with friends who are commies and refuse to stand for the national anthem and I have family and friends who want to punch those people in the face.
But this is America, and the people who stand for the national anthem do so because they want to, not because they have to. If we force people to stand for our national anthem, we won’t survive as a country and don’t deserve to. I refuse to live in a land where we force our own citizens to salute our flag. Millions of Americans died for our freedom, including the freedom to be a snotty ingrate.
The few people who would desecrate Memorial Day or step on or burn an American flag do so to be offensive, and they are. Do you know what I find more offensive? That military families have had to raise money on their own to pay for their loved ones’ body armor and other supplies. That we insist on wars halfway across the globe while our own borders are porous and that we have generals who think increasing the racial diversity of our military is more important than not having our troops murdered by their own doctors. I don’t like burning the American flag, but people who do offend me a lot less than whoever thought it would be a good idea to pay private contractors twice what our service members make.
None of the actions of our government, nor of the military itself, shrouds or negates the sacrifices made by men and women who fought and died for our country.
It’s unfortunate that such a solemn holiday is the unofficial start of the summer season. I wish I could say I’ll be spending Monday at a veteran’s cemetery putting flags on graves or quietly reflecting on the sacrifices made by our war dead. But I’ll be at a friend’s house eating hot dogs and playing music among a haze of cigar smoke. And I don’t even like summer.
I cannot share in the glory of any military victory, but I experience the benefit of our fallen fighters every day.
And evidence of this sacrifice is all around us. We take the security of our country for granted and laugh at the idea of being invaded by the military of another country. That comfort comes at a very high price. Please remember that.