Memorial Day is for remembering the military dead. Veterans Day is for remembering the surviving military. But as far as I’m concerned, this country does a very poor job of remembering, and honoring, the American military, dead or alive.
To start with, all that most people do to remember the military (particularly if no relative of theirs is currently serving) is wave the flag – literally from their homes, figuratively in their political views, emotionally in their hearts of hearts. Some may watch or march in a parade. Some may visit a grave or a memorial. These are all nice symbolic gestures; but aside from offering respect and dignity (not to be sneezed at, I know), they don’t mean anything, they don’t accomplish anything.
In consideration of things that might be more meaningful memorials, I feel compelled to start with something that happened this week that is the complete antithesis of what I'm talking about. Congress decided that military women who become pregnant from a rape by military men shouldn’t have their abortions (should they choose them) funded by the government. Presently, civilian government employees are so covered – minimally, of course, according to the traditional proviso: pregnancies created by rape or incest, or that threaten the life of the mother. This means that a servicewoman in Iraq or Afghanistan who has suffered a rape by a comrade in arms can just bite the bullet: keep the kid or spring for the abortion herself. It’s just our government's way of saying: we remember you. Thank you for your service.
The biggest thing that we don’t do to honor and remember the military dead – We the People and We the Government – is closely, seriously consider what the hell we’re doing before we send American military into harm’s way. Yes, of course sometimes war is necessary. But it isn’t/wasn’t necessary in Iraq, I’m way less than convinced it’s necessary in Afghanistan, it certainly wasn’t necessary in Vietnam. Truthfully, my lack of knowledge about the Korean War doesn’t allow me to assess that one. World War II was necessary; I can tell the difference. Neat, clean, minimal personnel, covert missions like the one that got bin Laden, that’s a contemporary example of putting military to good use. We should remember that.
Another thing we should remember: the military dead have families. They should not be delayed, or nickled and dimed, in receiving insurance and death benefits, and their benefits should be multi-faceted and much greater. They deserve that. If we had mindful decency in crafting and funding and executing these benefits, we would remember that.
The military dead were fiercely devoted to the surviving military. In honoring that devotion, we should remember to treat the surviving military very, very well. If they’re sick in any way, they should get the best care and therapy possible, no expense spared (or delayed). If they’re even just trying to reacclimate to civilian life, they should get the money, services and perks they need (and deserve), no expense spared or delayed.
It’s okay to have picnics and barbecues on the long Memorial Day Weekend. Everyone deserves a little spring break. But later next week, we should think about what we can do to honor our country’s military dead. Maybe it’s a relevant financial contribution, maybe it’s volunteer service, maybe it’s writing to your Congressional representatives. You’ll know what works for you. Maybe it is visiting a grave. But in lieu of flowers, please take good care of veterans.