For the first time in decades, the United States is not engaged in open warfare. Since the Reagan administration U.S. troops have been in and out of Nicaragua, Colombia, Iraq, Kuwait, Iran, Somalia, Bosnia and, of course, Afghanistan, not to mention our participation in joint peacekeeping missions in other countries.
In recent years they’ve even deployed within our own borders, ready to fight and kill fellow Americans.
Let’s hope the current peace is a policy our government works to maintain, rather than a mere lull before we send troops some other foreign land.
Every conflict has created lists of brave men and women who have died in service. Even more have returned from battle and done their best to resume normal lives, even as so many have proven the truth in the old saying that war changes everyone it touches.
These are the people we think about on Veterans Day.
Collectively, American civilians for the most part maintain a national contrition for the abuse that was vented upon veterans and active military personnel returning from the unpopular Vietnam War — a war that most of them were conscripted into fighting and many of them opposed themselves. Today it is routine to thank veterans and active warriors for their service.
A truly grateful nation, however, looks for ways to repay that service with more than a simple expression of gratitude. Certainly, we hold parades and other commemorations on Veterans Day and other military holidays. We applaud businesses that offer veterans and military discounts, and support legislative efforts to offer them benefits ranging from tax exemptions to subsidized health care.
For many veterans, however, those expressions of gratitude can’t erase the many scars and wounds — physical and emotional — they bring back from the battlefield. Study after study documents the troubles many of our veterans face: high concentrations of those seeking mental health treatment; disproportionate representation among homeless and jobless adults; and the frequently noted fact that some 6,000 U.S. veterans commit suicide every year, a frequency that is 1.5 times the national rate.
True gratitude, therefore, should include a recognition of the difficulties our former troops face, and a commitment to spare future generations of veterans from the horrors of war, by avoiding conflict whenever possible.
To be sure, this country would enjoy an enormous economic benefit, simply by avoiding the massive costs of warfare. A less obvious but perhaps more important peace dividend, however, will be realized by our Department of Veterans Affairs and other agencies that would have fewer war-related injuries to treat in the future.
But the most valuable benefit surely will be a growing population of veterans who were willing to defend our country but never asked to engage hostile forces in foreign lands.
Let us pray that this Veterans Day is the first of many that we can truly say are being celebrated in times of peace.