The Marlowsphere Blog (#136)
Veterans Day is this Friday, November 11. It became a national holiday in 1938 twelve years after Congress passed a resolution to celebrate it as a national event. It is coincidental that this year it is celebrated in the same week as America’s national and state elections, pitting at the national level one candidate who has a deep knowledge of the military and the international consequences of war (former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) and another candidate who never served in the military and has bragged about his greater understanding of ISIS than the generals who deal with it every day (Donald Trump).
Whatever the outcome, Veterans Day is about remembering. Remembering that in the last 100 years millions of people, military and civilian alike, have died in two world wars and several regional and civil wars, some of which are still raging today, such as the wars in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Nigeria, and war-like terrorist events in places like Paris, France.
We should remember that putting on a uniform is not child’s play or a John Wayne movie. Putting on a uniform makes you a target as many policemen all over this country have known for some time and even more so in the last couple of years. However, a uniform also endows the wearer with responsibility and duty to one’s comrades, community and country. It is also symbolic: symbolic of authority and, in a sense, symbolic of the collective power of people and machines that can protect and destroy.
Veterans Day is certainly about the people in uniform. We should remember that those who put on a uniform served not only our country on the frontlines, but also directly the people behind the lines: families, friends, communities. In a larger sense, those in uniform past and present help perpetuate the concept and practice of democracy.
The question now is: what will we remember about recent and past military events? Will we remember, for example, that the attack on the Taliban in Afghanistan was about liberating the Afghani people from a repressive, fanatical regime cloaked in religious precepts while protecting Osama bin Laden? Or will we remember it as revenge for 9/11? I think we have forgotten, but the Taliban have not. It is ironic that we once helped the Taliban with arms in order to defeat Russia’s presence there. The Russians ultimately had the good sense to leave. Why don’t they also have the good sense to leave Eastern Ukraine and the Syrian regime?
What we need to especially remember is that this is a time of war on a global scale, not just militarily, but economically and philosophically. There is a war of cultural values going on all around us and this war will not abate soon.
I would like to think that in the future we will remember this time as a time not of business as usual, but as a time of great stress and confusion that in the long run will bring many voices to the planetary table. We have traveled to a place of a global economy, but there is no global culture. This journey has been and will be littered with the bodies of many people, some in uniform, others not. We will perhaps remember that there are no innocents in this matter and that change is not a gentle process. It is painful, but the result could be a new beginning.
We need to embrace this period of change. Change is the constant in the universe. Those in uniform are on the front lines and risk their lives in periods of culture clash.
Eugene Marlow, Ph.D. teaches courses in media and culture at Baruch College (City University of New York). He is a four-year United States Air Force veteran who served during the Vietnam War. He co-founded the Annual Veterans Day Luncheon at Baruch College, CUNY in 1998.
Eugene Marlow, Ph.D.
November 7, 2016
© Eugene Marlow 2016