Over sixty years ago, my father appropriated his older brother's birth certificate, stole out into the early morning, and joined the Marines. He was fifteen and he didn't tell his parents. A few months later, he was on a boat headed for China, but then the last world war ended, so he had to wait to see action (not, unfortunately, as long as he might have expected). He revered his own father, much as I revere him, and his father was a Marine, as was his father's father. For my dad, nothing seemed more honorable than fighting for liberty and freedom in the United States Marine Corps.
He went on to fight in Korea, and what happened there he has mostly kept out of conversations. But what did happen changed his attitude about war and the men who conduct it. He has never lost his trust in the Marine Corps, but he's much warier about the men who place those Marines in danger. As a result, I grew up in a distinctly non-militarized home. It's a safe bet that the reason I'm writing this blog now is because of something that happened to my father in the early 1950s, two decades before I was born. In the years between 1945, when he snuck off to fight, full of naivete and honor, and the early 70s, when he began to impart his wisdom to me, something changed. The message he passed along was different than the one he received.
We celebrate Veterans Day because we want to honor those who were subjected to enormous trauma when they were just kids--for the values of freedom, liberty, and equality that we all enjoy.
Unfortunately, not everyone honors them. I know that President Bush still enjoys support from the military families in this country, but he doesn't deserve it. He acted irresponsibly in the ramp-up to war. His vanity prevented him from finding support from foreign partners and using an international force that might have brought legitimacy to the effort. Those who paid the price were the kids, whose honor and trust he has exploited. Worst, he has cut their pay, and as we learned the day before Veteran's Day in 2003, illegally refuses to pay 17 Gulf War I veterans compensation that they deserve. He rouses the robust Hu-ahs at military bases, but what is he doing for the troops?
Perhaps in large measure because of the values my father passed down to me, I'm extremely critical of this president. When I look at the foolish, vainglorious manner in which he conducts foreign policy, it makes me think that the lives of the soldiers never crosses his mind. On this Veteran's Day, we honor people like my Dad. I wish we could also bring ourselves to see that standing with solemnity at the graves of dead soldiers is not enough. When the president is so cavalier with soldiers' lives, so callous that he would cut their pay during wartime, this is not honor. It's deeply offensive.