It started in 2002 when I wrote something about Veteran’s Day over at Armed Liberal. Here’s what I wrote in ‘I Started To Write About Veteran’s Day…’:
…and to thank the veterans alive and dead for protecting me and mine.
And worried that what I wrote kept coming out sounding either too qualified or would be interpreted as being too nationalistic.
And I realized something about my own thinking, a basic principle I’ll set out as a guiding point for the Democrats and the Left in general as they try and figure out the next act in this drama we are in.
First, you have to love America.
This isn’t a perfect country. I think it’s the best county; I’ve debated this with commenters before, and I’ll point out that while people worldwide tend to vote with their feet, there may be other (economic) attractions that pull them. But there are virtues here which far outweigh any sins. And I’ll start with the virtue of hope.
The hope of the immigrants, abandoning their farms and security for a new place here.
The hope of the settlers, walking across Death Valley, burying their dead as they went.
The hope of the “folks” who moved to California after the war.
The hope of the two Latino kids doing their Computer Science homework at Starbucks’.
I love this country, my country, my people. And those who attack her…from guerilla cells, boardrooms, or their comfy chairs in expensive restaurants…better watch out.
I don’t get a clear sense that my fellow liberals feel the same way. And if so, why should “the folks” follow them? Why are we worthy of the support of a nation that we don’t support?
So let me suggest an axiom for the New Model Democrats:
America is a great goddamn country, and we’re both going to defend it from those who attack it and fight to make it better.
And for everyone who is going to comment and remind me that ‘all liberals already do that’…no they don’t. Not when the Chancellor has to intervene at U.C. Berkeley to get “permission” for American flags to be flown and red-white-and-blue ribbons to be worn. Not when the strongest voices in liberalism give lip service to responding to an attack on our citizens on our soil.
Loving this country isn’t the same thing as jingoism; it isn’t the same thing as imperialism; it isn’t the same thing as blind support of the worst traits of our government or our people.
It starts with recognizing the best traits, and there are a hell of a lot of them.
They were worth defending in my father’s time, and they are worth defending today.
So thanks, veterans. Thanks soldiers and sailors and marines and airmen. Thanks for doing your jobs and I hope you all come home hale and whole, every one of you.
Two years ago, I discussed why I felt that being progressive did not contradict being patriotic, and why even the most ardent American leftist could – and should – embrace American exceptionalism.
Last year, I explained my own journey from disdaining the men and women who serve in the military to honoring them, pointing to Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson as an example of what our military really is made of.
This year, I want to talk about what we owe the men and women serving today.
The war we are involved in has cost 2,000 of them their lives, and many others wounds from which they may never heal. It has cost others their jobs and families as the heavy use of reserves has disrupted many lives.
First and foremost we owe them simple care. It’s outrageous that bloggers are shilling to raise a few tens of thousands of dollars to buy voice-actuated laptops for the troops. It’s outrageous that more large businesses don’t support their reservists. I’ve turned a budget-minded eye to some cuts in VA care for aging veterans who have long since returned to civilian life, but the notion that freshly-wounded veterans of current wars lack for any care is offensive.
It’s a cost of making war.
Next, we owe them personal respect. Reactions to veterans in this war is more characterized by applause than opprobrium, and that’s a good thing. It is one thing to put out a flag on Veteran’s Day, and another to go out of one’s way to shake the hand of a soldier you happen to see at an airport. I’ve done them both, and both of them feel pretty good.
Next, we owe them some measure of understanding and forgiveness. Commenter JC recently posted a thread of comments which set out the basic premise that the horrible death dealt to a child – burned to death by U.S. weapons illegitimized the war. The child’s death is, to him made more horrible by the war’s illegitimacy – I pointed out to him that because he began from the premise that the war was morally wrong, any death was automatically inherently evil.
Our soldiers deal in death, and to paraphrase Patton, their job is not to die for their country, but to see that others die for theirs. We have, in this war gone to unprecedented lengths to spare the innocent, and to act militarily with a standard of care that would have been unthinkable twenty years ago, much less in World War II. To some, it’s still not enough.
That may be the case, and the merits of the war may well be subject to argument by reasonable people (as well as the unreasonable on both sides). But the men and women who bear the arms, drop the bombs, launch the missiles and shells are – with rare exceptions – blameless. If there is moral hazard in this war, let the politicians who decided it and the citizens – like me – who supported it bear that risk. The troops who bear the physical risk should be beyond that. As they bear the physical risk for us, we should bear the moral risk for them.
And finally and most of all, we owe the soldiers a level of seriousness in discussing matters of war that has been largely absent from the discussion in the last few years. Cheap partisan and ideological struggles have been played out around the issues of this war. Both sides – again – should look and feel guilty over what they have done in the name of political advantage and expediency.
Veteran’s Day is a simple day in which we – as a nation – express our gratitude to the veterans who have sacrificed, suffered, and risked for us. Acknowledging that requires three simple things:
* To acknowledge that there is an ‘us’ on whose behalf the veterans have served.
* To acknowledge that their service itself was an honor.
* To acknowledge that our nation – like all others – owes no small part of its existence, wealth, and freedom to the simple fact that we were (and I hope are) willing to defend it with the force of arms. We are born in blood, and live with bloody hands.
Finally, to acknowledge that last moral debt with a personal commitment to make that blood others have spent for us matter. To use our freedom, build our community, do something to create a future better than our present.
Honoring our veterans today is the right thing to do. Tomorrow, join them and offer some service yourself to make the country whose uniform they wear a better place – in any way you know how.