Once again National Barbecue and Outdoor Grill Day is upon us . . . or so it seems from the lack of solemnity that greets this supposedly somber day.
In the waning days of the Vietnam War this country ended military conscription — “The Draft” — and with the draft’s demise so, too, ended any concept of shared sacrifice on the home front during time of war. In wars prior to and throughout most of Vietnam citizens were asked to send their fathers and sons to battle, and to support the war effort through rationing, volunteerism, and, yes, even taxes. Upon their return our fathers and sons were propped up during their transition from the horrors of war to the mundaneness of a civilian, nine-to-five, off-on-weekends existence. We paid for their college education, tended to their wounds both physical and mental, rehabilitated their disabilities, and returned them to society for the most part as fully functioning members.
Back then the Veterans Administration was a thing of wondrous humanity that defined how we as a nation cared for our warriors in their time of need. It defined us as a people, and it let those who fought our battles know that we would not abandon them once the gunfire ceased.
Not so today. We have now as a society isolated ourselves from wars we send our fellow citizens to fight. No longer do we send our own off to perhaps die. Now we are content to get someone else’s child — usually from the lower income and educational strata of our society — to “volunteer” into perhaps their only shot at a better life.
Meanwhile, we allow our political leaders to sell us on avoiding any related wartime pain while at the same time allowing corporate profiteers to enrich themselves on the sacrifices of others. There is no rationing. No one is asked to curtail their standard of living. Taxes are cut. The costs of today’s wars are pushed forward to future generations. Our leaders tell us that it’s our patriotic duty to take the family and, “. . . get down to Disney World,” rather than do the unpopular things necessary as a society that has made the collective decision to wage war.
Now that the post-9/11 wars are coming to a close — one of which was totally optional and complete folly; and the whole raison d’être for the other having ended over three years ago on May 2, 2011 — we are once again failing our warriors at the most basic, civilized level. This is far from new. We as a nation have failed in this area ever since conscription ended in this country over forty years ago.
And that won’t change until conscription returns. Needless wars will continue to be fought and necessary wars will extend well beyond the stated mission goal is reached as long as political leaders and business executives profit without risk to their own progeny and the majority of voters are isolated from any shared sacrifice and pain.
So, to clarify the title of this Memorial Day message, let me state the following:
When I say that the all-volunteer military has been a complete and utter failure I don’t mean that our men and women in uniformed service have failed us. Far from it. I mean that we as a nation have failed them, and it’s well beyond time to make amends by returning the pain and sacrifice of war back to the home front. When everyone’s child is at risk, only then will our returning warriors get the help they so desperately deserve.