This Veterans Day will elicit the usual flag-waving and the beatification of U.S. veterans based on their alleged willingness to sacrifice their very lives to the freedom of their country. The celebrations leave the impression of bright-eyed, square-jawed youth unflinchingly marching into the mouths of cannons to protect the hearths and ideals of those left behind.
The fact is that in no U.S. war since World War II - when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and fascism threatened to overtake the world - has the freedom of the country been even remotely at issue. Not in Korea or in Vietnam, where there was no national threat. Not in Desert Storm nor in the Iraq invasion, where thousands were killed and maimed for oil profits. And certainly not in Afghanistan, where invasion has not minimized any terrorist threats that may exist.
As to the "willingness" of these young fighters, the draft was still in force during the Korean and Vietnam wars - against tremendous youth resistance during the Vietnam era. Since the draft was abolished the armed forces have been composed primarily of the underprivileged, many of whom enlisted because of a paucity of well-paid jobs and the promise of a free college education which they couldn't afford as civilians. Ask those who have been to Iraq or Afghanistan if they would do it again and you might be very surprised at their "willingness." And many who were hoodwinked by a false patriotism into serving have been, along with the rest, tragically discarded like spent cartridges. Veteran suicides - averaging 18 a day - are at a historic height, as is PTSD, which is being largely untreated. Veterans' homes are unprotected: many are repossessed causing unprecedented homelessness among vets.
Painting over these realities with fatuous patriotism - and sacrificing substance to ritual - borders on the criminal. Contrary to intent, it dishonors the poor kids and keeps the door open for more of them to be ruthlessly sacrificed. Perhaps we mythify the vets because it's unbearable to acknowledge the tragic pointlessness of their deaths at the hands of a country sunk in the morass of militarism.
If we truly wanted to honor our veterans we would start by telling the truth about them, the wars they served in, and the brutal treatment they have subsequently received. What we need in lieu of blinding jingoism is clear-eyed honesty - the mandate of free media.