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Veterans Day

by Stephen Spennato - 2014-11-11


Before we begin, let me note that my use of ain’ts, y’alls, and ‘Muricas will be kept to a minimum in this piece for the sake of my English teacher’s sanity. Let me also say that this article is not about politics; politics tends only to divide people. Plenty of focus is given to the divisions between Americans elsewhere, so instead I will speak to what unites us.

This week, America once again celebrates its brave veterans of the Armed Forces, people who uproot their lives for years at a time and face immense danger to protect our national sovereignty and constitutional liberties. In recent decades, many service members have returned from conflicts in the Middle East--though too many have not--to face the adjustment back to civilian life. Veterans and their families make great sacrifices during their time in the service; during his time in the Air Force one family friend, an F-16 pilot, moved his family first to Italy, then to Utah, and did two tours in the Middle East. After so much of their life devoted to our country, and the ever-present prospect of injury or death that comes with a military role, one would think that veterans and their families are given ample help in adjusting back to civilian life at the end of their service.

One would be wrong. They don’t get much help, and it shows: about 12% of the nation’s homeless people are veterans, anywhere between 10% and 30% (officially, some say it is far higher) of all veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder yet less than half of those afflicted with PTSD seek treatment, and very few of them receive more than minimal help. These numbers mean more when one realizes that, currently, America is home to about 21.8 million living veterans according to the national census bureau.

So why don’t they get the help they deserve? Many organizations have tried to fill the gaps left by the government, such as the Wounded Warrior Project, the USO and countless others, but even they fall short of solving the problems faced by veterans. Individuals alone cannot do much to help: despite my efforts I’ve barely helped at all, and the $400 or so I’ve raised to date for veterans is microscopic in comparison to what is needed. Only a nation-wide effort can do something significant to ease life for veterans.

Such a nation-wide effort likely won’t happen, as currently there is a certain stigma attached to patriotism. Just look at music, a field in which the only patriotic music has come from country artists. In other media, patriotism is once again connected to the “moonshine and gun rack” demographic, and while there is some truth to the stigma--people from small towns, such as my family in North Carolina, do tend to be very patriotic--the stereotype that patriots are rednecks harms any chance for a national effort to help our veterans. Compounding this problem is the frequent unpopularity of wars; after Vietnam in particular, soldiers faced massive condemnation by an out-of-touch public who went so far as to call soldiers “baby killers.” More recent conflicts haven’t caused such a strong backlash, but support has not been as strong as it can or should be. Rather than feeling pride in our country, and by extension gratitude for our brave soldiers, many citizens instead prefer to criticize America’s mistakes.

This must change.

When I say “God Bless America,” I do mean the Christian God that I worship, but it doesn’t have to mean that for everyone. The important message is that it is for some higher purpose, divine or otherwise, that has brought about this great nation to promote the ideals of freedom and democracy to all humankind. To a great extent, the United States has succeeded in this goal; most of the world’s democracies were either inspired or protected by the United States. Yes, our country has made mistakes. Yes, we have our problems. But at no time in history has such a beacon of freedom and justice existed as the USA. Never before has the freedom of speech or the right to vote been so widespread on Earth. Our country, our people, have changed the course of history for the better, and today our citizens and those of many other nations enjoy a higher standard of living and greater freedom than most of history’s peoples ever imagined. This is something to be proud of. Patriotism is something all Americans should hold close to their hearts, and once we all are proud of our nation we will all be proud of our veterans.

America will never be able to pay our debt to our veterans, but we should still do what we can to help them and their families adjust. Pride in our country is not a perfect solution, nor is it the only thing needed for our veterans. However, it can convince more people to help the veterans adjust to civilian life, to help provide treatment for physical injuries and PTSD, and to help the families of those who paid the ultimate price.

As always, God bless America.


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