Sometimes in the midst of all of our proselytizing and pacificism and regret over tragic wars, we forget those who have fought for social justice and freedom. These are things we take for granted as we are wrapped warmly in our beds cocooned by the illusion of constant peace. Even the best-case scenario for veterans (they come back to us alive) is fraught with long-lasting and sometimes irreparable damage to their psyches. Loss of limbs or paralysis force them to go on disability when they would have rather worked. For many whose mental constitutions were not impervious to the horrors of death, torture and suffering, they come back home but are never the same person again. Although the human body is amazingly resilient in bouncing back, it is not always such a quick fix for the mind. The psychological trauma that many young soldiers will go through is ten times more than any of us will ever have to experience in this life. While at war’s culmination, society might rejoice with confetti parties and public kisses and go back to their lives, many soldiers don’t have that luxury. Why do we cast them aside with such ingratitude? I don’t think it’s purposeful. It’s tantamount to not wanting to look into a mirror that is shows an ugly reflection. We don’t want to remember atrocities. That’s human. But our veterans are stuck with it. And it is easier for us to forget and go about our day. (‘I’m glad it’s not me that has to go’ or ‘I’m a pacificist so I’m going to sit in my ivory tower and spit on those who are protecting the things I take for granted’), forgetfulness? (self-absorption in our own lives), abandonment? (not investing enough in the vast resources that are necessary to rehabilitate and transition them back into society), judgment?(another crazy, homeless veteran). Abominable.
Veterans are another easy group to marginalize. I believe that 99% of the time we forget or abandon people, it is because they are too difficult for us to look at. The elderly are a constant reminder of the promise of death, the homeless are a constant reminder that any one of us could be on the street in a second if we make a wrong decision, with nowhere to go, the abused and battered remind us of the days we feel that we are not worth anything, least of all love. The veterans, I suspect, are reminders of atrocities against of mankind and the lasting repercussions of fearful actions. One need not be a warmonger to have a hunger in fighting against evil.
But I digress.
So it becomes much easier for us to cast all of those problems that amount to enormous buzzkills aside. We’ll deal with that later, or we won’t deal with that at all our thinking goes. Then everything will be rosy.
That’s where we’re wrong. The more we want to forget, the greater should be our resolve to focus our energies in that direction to heal and correct. My grandfather was a Master Sgt. in General Patton’s 3rd Army. I am only here typing this right now because he was one of the lucky ones who came back. My cousins are here because their fathers survived Vietnam. Not all were so lucky. My grandfather was stationed in Germany only six months after his marriage to my grandmother. Few stories came from his mouth upon his return much to the chagrin of his children and grandchildren; but it was the best way for him to deal. I do know that when my grandfather walked down the city streets while practicing as an attorney he would automatically check the 2nd and 3rd story windows of office buildings for snipers. As much as he wanted to forget, there was always residual trauma.
During the war he was taking soldiers through training practices driving tanks. There was one boy in particular who was extremely nervous and skittish. The slightest sound went off at the side of the road and he jerked the tank to the side in reaction. My grandfather went back to the camp and told the Sergeant Major, “Do not let this man drive a tank. He can’t handle it.” Well, my grandfather’s advice was ignored and they decided to let him drive the tank. He was killed on that mission. These are the things that surely mess with the minds of a soldier. Killing our fellow man is not natural.
Maybe this is naive, but why couldn’t we just take down Hitler and leave everyone else alone??
Countless stories of the same inhabit the psyches of those who do not have the luxury to forget when they come back onto American soil.
We can all put patriotic bumper stickers on our cars. We can all vow to hug a veteran today and say thank you. That’s not too tall of an order for one day out 365 days a year. But then again, one day out of the year is not the problem. The problem is the other 364. ** It would be much better if as a sincere thank you for the fact that we are living, walking down the street with no fear and participating in a safe, democratic society that we translated our gratitude into actionable steps in providing greater resources and care so that they don’t have to feel abandoned. Let us demand better from ourselves. Let’s not continue to let fighting for freedom and justice be a thankless job. They took care of us and in millions of cases they are the very reason we are sitting here right now breathing and reading this article on an unmoderated internet. They took care of us to the nth degree. Let’s make the remaining 364 days of the year our turn to take care of them.
** Charity Navigator, a non-profit that posts online ratings of about 5,000 charities, added the veterans group to its database last month. Out of 71 charities listed, it was the only one to earn zero stars. It rated the charity low because more than 65% of its expenses went to fund raising. Most non-profits spend no more than 10% on fund raising, said Charity Navigator spokeswoman Sandra Miniutti.
The rating puts the veterans group in the bottom 2% of charities on the Web site, Miniutti said.
Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund – http://www.fallenheroesfund.org/
Fisher House Veterans Charity – http://www.fisherhouse.org/