Thursday, May 28, 2015

Belated Memorial Day Rant

Memorial Day. The beginning of the Summer Blockbuster season! At least, it used to be. The real reason behind the holiday, of course, is to pay tribute to fallen American soldiers.

It's important that we honor the past and the people who sacrificed their lives, and we generally do a good job of it. We glorify soldiers who have given the ultimate sacrifice. We tell stories about them, some true, others not so much. We make movies about them. We love honoring the dead. I just wish we'd do a better job honoring the living.

It's almost cliche at this point to talk about the poor treatment of veterans in this country. Their healthcare sucks. Their mental health care is nearly non-existent. They oftentimes can't get jobs, or at least ones that compensate them for their abilities. They make up a staggering percentage of the homeless population, especially veterans of color.

This inadequate treatment of vets is nothing new of course. From Vietnam, where many Americans harassed veterans in a misdirected expression of justified rage at a bullshit war, to today, when we basically act as if Iraq and Afghanistan veterans don't even exist.

It's really pathetic and hypocritical for a country that prides itself so much on its military strength and dedication to freedom.

I was always fascinated with war stories, especially those told by veterans, because war brings out every facet of mankind. It's a fascinating topic for sociological reasons, and for entertainment reasons to be honest (Vietnam movies are the best!). War says so much about the human spirit, for better, and largely, for worse. In my AP US History class in high school, we delved into the Vietnam War. One day, two Vietnam vets came to talk about their experiences. One thing they said has always stayed with me, and heavily influenced my outlook on Vietnam and wars in general.

After telling us where they were stationed and what their particular jobs were, they told us their current views of the war they fought so long ago. They said if they could do it all over again, they would fight for the Vietcong. This was a little shocking, to say the least, but I was an avid reader and I already had a good amount of skepticism about wars and the government. Hearing such a denunciation of America from the voices of people who served simply helped solidify my views. The vets said they were always impressed with the way the Vietcong fought; moreover, they believed the reasons why the Vietcong fought were the most noble and reasonable.

Not to get too much into the history of the war (you can and should do that on your own) but many of the Vietcong were local Vietnamese protecting their families and their land. They were associated with but separate from the North Vietnamese Army. Most were not Communist, although many people believe the Vietcong were just a tool of the NVA. Regardless, they fought against the South Vietnamese Army and therefore, the US. They also committed their fair share of atrocities. Nobody is innocent in a war, but there are legitimate reasons to fight, and their are completely asinine, and often blatantly false, reasons to fight.

The veterans talked about how much they loved their fellow American soldiers and would never betray them or turn their backs on them, but they simply believed the Vietcong had the most legitimate reasons to fight. Plus, the veterans felt completely betrayed by the US government, as many war vets do, and looked back on the war with a lot of bitter regret. It may not be something we want to hear from our vets, but nobody can take those feelings away from them. They earned those feelings of bitterness and anger. And I'll say this, as speakers, they did a wonderful job convincing me to never join the military.

Our hypocritical praising of the military while ignoring veterans has always bothered me. Fuck the American flag car window decal. Fuck the Facebook posts. I'm all for hashtag activism, but unless it's backed up by monetary support or a push for real change, through legislation, hiring practices, housing policies, whatever, it doesn't accomplish much except make people feel better by showing off their undying "support."

Here's an idea: how about we honor the heroes while they are still here? And not just on Veterans Day. Let's honor them by providing proper health care, jobs, housing. Honor them by not sending them to bullshit meaningless wars. Honor them by prosecuting or at least not voting for the politicians who send them to bullshit meaningless wars. I'm sure veterans will appreciate any of that more than a lame ass parade.

I Love You All...Class Dismissed. 

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