Another disappointing Veterans Day has passed. The day was marked with parades in cities around the nation, interviews and stories with combat veterans, solemn memorial services at military cemeteries, musical performances, sales pitches on various consumer items in the media, and of course, hours of combat movies and TV programs celebrating the heroic actions of mostly male soldiers.
As usual, after any military related event, there were the missing in action, that is, issues largely absent or underarticulated in the many events on that day.
Missing in Action: The Original Armistice Day
There is a history to why November 11th is a holiday that demands attention. Although the holiday in the United States is now called Veterans Day, the original name for November 11th was Armistice Day. One original purpose of Armistice Day was to reflect on how people, institutions and national governments can achieve peace. In other words, Armistice Day was conceived as a day dedicated to the cause and perpetuation of world peace.
Between the humble beginnings of Armistice Day and today, the original focus of November 11th has become undermined and more specialized — that is, remembering and honoring the military service of Veterans and glorifying war. Very little focus of the current holiday highlights the efforts of peace organizations trying to implement the original intent of November 11th.
Did the pursuit of peace envisioned by Armistice Day ever really have a chance? Probably not. With the rise of American military power and the pursuit of empire, the consolidation of the Military Industrial (University) Complex, the celebration in the combat film and the TV mini-series about war, disinforming governmental messaging and the marketing about the necessity of invading other countries, have had, over time, more historical value in mainstream society than the struggle for the cause of peace.
In the current context of ongoing multiple global armed conflicts, of which the conflicts in Afghanistan and Yemen come immediately to mind as countries where the US is involved, to the fact that the United States has at least 800 military installations in more than 70 countries around the globe, war is a part of the ambient background we’ve come to expect.
It is easy to see why the purpose of Armistice Day, a day to begin the hard work necessary to end all war and to seek peace, seems futile.
Missing in Action: Quality Public Healthcare
This year brought to our national attention a tenacious and lethal enemy, the COVID -19 virus, a microscopic parasite that engulfed the globe in epidemic proportions, killing and inflecting thousands of Americans, in large part due to enormous governmental policy failures, woefully inadequate leadership, lack of access to proper resources and disinforming messaging of the Trump Administration.
Veterans are among those Americans dead from COVID 19. Deaths have occurred not only in VA hospitals but also in private nursing homes. Veterans who faced combat related healthcare issues beyond the borders of the nation are now encountering an unseen microscopic enemy decimating their ranks on the home front.
One foundation for a peaceful society is access to quality Public Healthcare. The pandemic exposed, writ large, historic structural inequalities engendered by past governmental and private sector failures to provide decent healthcare to all Americans, in particular, in communities of color and the poor.
Veterans were not immune from that same history of failure which exposed a lack of regulation and accountability, in particular, in state run Veterans homes.
Missing in Action: Military-dependent family members
Men preparing for, currently involved or having served in combat situations generally enjoy the majority of attention in the mass media of film, television, radio and print journalism and are almost exclusively the center of the stories available on Veterans Day.
Although there are a growing number of women — and moms — who are on active duty, and in some cases, both parents are in the military, the active duty personnel are still mostly male.
Nonetheless, missing in the action that day and actually every day, are their military-dependent family members.
Military-dependent family members? What am I talking about?
Due to an almost complete absence in reporting in the mass media and very few portrayals in fiction, it makes sense to ask for civilians to seek clarification of these questions.
Veterans who served in war, like my dad, would know immediately the meaning of those four words as they, themselves, are a part of a military family with dependent spouses and children.
Dad was a career United States Air Force non-commissioned officer, stationed in six national duty stations with multiple domestic temporary duty assignments (TDYs) as well as three international duty stations in a 20-plus year tenure that included serving in South Korea and South Vietnam.
Speaking of myself as a military-dependent family member, when my dad was stationed in the US, I could be found at the home front serving as an updated version of the camp follower. Camp followers are spouses and children of mostly male parent-soldiers, who literally followed their individual parent-soldier from duty station to duty station or from conflict to conflict. Unfortunately, little is known of the history of the thousands of spouses and children camp followers from previous centuries.
When my dad came home to his modern-day military family at the home front from the local base or from a TDY or from overseas, he brought with him the particular psychological stresses, emotional pressures and physical issues associated with active duty personnel in the US military. And without question, my military family, absorbed, and then were consequently influenced by these factors. There wasn’t a choice in the matter. In the military dependent family, like military service for the parent-soldier, you do what you are told to do.
The public has heard the stories and the voices from the mostly male parent-soldier-veteran like my dad in the mainstream media on Veterans Day. On the other hand, the voices of today’s living military-dependent spouses and dependent children are rare any time of the year. Even in the age of the internet, the 24-hour news cycle, video or audio on demand, the podcast and various streaming services, the voices of today’s living military dependent spouses and children are still rare.
Part of the exclusion of military-dependent spouses and children from mainstream media is due to the particular features of war and the role played by the mostly male parent-soldier-veteran. War is instantly dramatic. There is plenty of compelling and life-threatening action. It has winners and losers. There is unimaginable, often unspeakable violence. There is sacrifice. There is death by many horrible means. And most important, civilian audiences seem eager to pay for and enjoy the experience of war at a safe distance in mainstream media.
Everyone needs to be reminded that less than one percent of all Americans are active duty military personnel with dependent family members. Fewer active duty personnel fight in combat. However, substantial numbers of Americans continue to consume mediated wars as movies or TV programs.
American film director Samuel Fuller, a WWII combat veteran, noted “To make a real war movie you would have to occasionally have riflemen fire at the audience from behind the screen during battle scenes.” So much for the real thing.
Nonetheless, the parent-soldier returning from war typically generates more media attention than the domestic milieu where the military dependent family lives and where another kind of battle is raging. More than likely the home front is both boring and less dramatic compared to the realities of war for civilians. Still, there is a battle inside the home front the public knows so little about and is inadequately prepared to discuss as the context is masked by the celebration of the combat experienced parent-soldier-veteran in the mainstream media.
Ironically, the mainstream news media report about invisibility, identity, the impact of trauma and the social and psychological upbringing among marginalized individuals and groups. The military spouse and child dependent, curiously, share this peripheral social experience, and are a part of an identifiable subculture, but remain far from the frontlines of the public’s attention.
Without media reports, the public could think that military dependent family members live in a utopia of all-encompassing social services and economic bliss and where the particular psychological stresses, emotional pressures and physical issues experienced by the parent-soldier-veterans are nonexistent in the military dependent.
With media scrutiny, the public might learn that there are particular issues intrinsic to the military- dependent family member that undermines not just the quality of life but long term mental stability and mental health, not to mention, educational opportunities and social and psychological development.
Although parent-soldiers and military family dependents share a domestic stage together, the general public has little awareness of their whole situation. It’s time for the role played by the military family dependent to be recognized and allowed to share the public stage with their parent-soldier.
Think of that moment as a learning experience for all of us.