By Shawn StJean
I haven’t been very active on the blog lately, but I’d like to offer a few thoughts to observe this important holiday, which many allow to pass unremarked year after year.
I posted this particular photo (taken several years ago) because these little guys are now grown enough to be serving in the armed forces today.
Everyone’s experience with the military, and attitude toward it, extend in a different degree, minute, and second of the compass. Many of the founding fathers considered a “standing [permanent] army” a great evil to be avoided, and in the 19th century Henry D. Thoreau lamented a Marine “such as [the government] can make a man, with its black arts.” Yet it’s hard to argue against the fact that, in the twentieth century, we can still point to our elder veterans, and say we owe them the continued existence our very way of life. And, of course, today we have our own brands of wars, both declared and undeclared, which lead to shell shock, Gulf War Syndrome, PTSD, and the like. Or to jingoism and fervor, or disillusionment, or even apathy. Vets, despite Thoreau’s attack, are all-too-human.
So I don’t urge you to go out and buy a vet a drink, necessarily, or to shake his hand or verbally thank her, nor to pass by and secretly despise her, if that’s your political stance. But some kind of acknowledgement may lie within your power. Perhaps the greatest injustice done to the Vietnam vets was a refusal to validate their experiences and even their existences, for better and worse.
Vets do not pass us, whether on the battlefield or on Main Street, as Oliver Stone once put it, as “ghosts in a landscape.”