The years my father served in the Armed Services (his branch, then called the Army Air Corps, would become the Air Force), long before I was born were during the heart of World War II. In some ways, they would be the best years of his life reflected in fond remembrance of the places he had seen (mainly North Africa), photographs of taken with Senegalese Soldiers and immense pythons, the French phrases he learned in Morroco, the souvenirs he brought home to my mother. I still have many of those: a wine flask wrapped in intricately woven leather, necklaces embedded with shells and amulets, delicately carved wood masks…
My parents met during the war and married at its height in 1943. Both were shaped by years in North Carolina where they were horrified by the terrible racism of the south, proud of the story my mother told about my dad, who gave up his seat to an elderly African Amerian woman, which was not without consequence.
After the war, my dad came home to the GI Bill, which enabled vets to go to college, get post-war training and help to build the great middle class into which I was born. My dad went to a trade school and learned how to be an electrician. He helped build the amazing structures that form Chicago’s magnificent skyline. Others built the superhighways, the airports, reveling in the nascent world of modern America. As a union tradesman, he earned a suburban life and sent his kids to college.
His was a generation of shared sacrifice, of contributing to the common good: out of many, one–e pluribus unum. It was a time of a progressive tax that imposed the most on the ones who could best afford it, and from those funds the U.S. soared, leading the world in technology. Big dreams from big dreamers who understood that it takes all of us to build the best that we can be and shoot for the moon. Can you imagine the debate about the space race in the 2015 Congress? We’d have never launched the first rocket, and Cape Canaveral would have remained a dream. The Internet would never have been. The world would have been deprived of Tang.
It was a time when everyone understood that they all had to sacrifice–not just those at the bottom, not just the volunteers who sign up (often because there is no other economic option for them) to fight wars all but invisible to us. But all of us: a tax structure that demanded the most from the wealthiest. A payoff for all: rich, poor, and the great in-between.
You hear a lot of bombast about the “poor vets” and how we ought to do a better job of taking care of them, yet, when Congress was confronted with a bill to take care of the first responders who put their lives on the line during 911 and its aftermath, the response by some in Congress was “not unless we cut something to pay for it!”
And then you hear the neocons (many of whom have never fought in war) advocating for more troops, more intervention, more boots on the ground rattling sabers and riding to victory with shock and awe in faraway lands. American might and power is what’s needed. How do we pay for that? In blood and silver? And more blood. A lot of pats on the back and “atta boys” does not make up for the sacrifice of those boys and girls, so unequally at the lower levels of the economic scale.
We need to honor the nation’s veterans, for they have risked much for our freedoms and the safety of our shores. But for our safety, for our freedoms–not for American hegemony. During WWII, everyone sacrificed, everyone suffered, everyone was invested and in on it. We were attacked, and everyone: 20-somethings, 30-somethings, 40-somethings, 80-somethings all were invested in the fight and were willing to live on rations and contribute to the effort in every way possible both at home and on the battlefield.
That generation–the generation of my parents–is almost gone, and what’s left in its place? Generations for whom public good is impossible to fathom. The public good, funded by the public to do good things that benefit us all has been replaced by entitlement and greed at the top and abject poverty at the bottom, and the great middle class into which I was born is growing smaller by the minute.
Parades, flag-waving, and words are hollow ways to honor the vets. We need to honor their service and what it actually means on this Veterans Day.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=0812975294]