On Saturday, Veteran’s Day, our nation honors the men and women of our armed services with formal gestures of gratitude: parades, backyard picnics and, for those of us whose professions can accommodate it, a three-day weekend.
The practice came about in 1918, after the armistice between Germany and the Allies was signed on Nov. 11 — we’re talking World War I here, the Great War, the one to end all future wars, with 20 million dead and another 20 million or so physically injured. They didn’t keep statistics for post-traumatic stress syndrome back then, as it had yet to be identified, so we’ll never be able to quantify the true psychological toll all of that killing took on this world.
World War I lasted four years. The one that followed, World War II, endured for six, though the US was involved for less than four of them. Vietnam went for eight long years, almost as long as the Revolutionary War, in which it took eight years and five months for the colonists to win their freedom.
Besides a domestic action against the Native Americans in the Northwest that ran for 10 years and a campaign against the Moro people of the Philippines that ran from 1899 to 1913, nothing the US armed forces has ever undertaken can compare with the war in Afghanistan.
It began almost a month after 9/11 under President Bush, more than 16 years ago, and back then it was about extraditing Osama bin Laden, who was finally killed in May 2011… in Pakistan… under President Obama.
Somehow, a parade doesn’t seem to do the job.
Nowadays, most Americans would be hard pressed to say what, exactly, we are doing in Afghanistan all these years later. Yet we still send a steady stream of our youth over there, many of whom were in diapers when the war began.
Thousands of them have died, along with tens of thousands more civilian and coalition deaths. Some of the ones who make it home from the combat zone have disfiguring injuries; most of them bear the invisible scars of PTSD; and we lose about 8,000 veterans to suicide every year.
All of them deserve our gratitude and respect. But somehow, a parade doesn’t seem to do the job.