Veterans Day, with its historical agenda and standard schedule of parades, salutes to veterans, wreath laying, displays of military hardware, solemn commemorations, patriotic musical performances and speeches, flag waving and military themed exhibits, has the net effect of diverting attention from underrepresented experiences of veterans serving in the military.
Military service is time spent in one of its branches. The customary events of Veterans Day cannot encompass or account for the multitude of experiences of military veterans. Only when an inclusive and comprehensive appraisal of “all things military veteran” are included in Veterans Day events will the day live up to its promise of honoring the military service of all veterans.
In order to transform Veterans Day, what is needed is an inclusive national conversation that gives equal time to perspectives at variance with the historical agenda and standard schedule of Veterans Day events. An inclusive national conversation would also point out that who controls the history and story of war also controls the terms that frame the military veteran and the acceptable experiences of the military veteran.
Since I am not expecting that kind of conversation to happen any time soon given that the corporate media system benefits from the current historical agenda of Veterans Day events, I humbly offer some possible talking points to include in any future conversation.
Veterans and Armistice Day
Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, a day to commemorate the truce that brought an end to Word War I, was also dedicated to the cause and perpetuation of world peace. After the human slaughter and environmental damage of WWI, hope for a nonviolent future among people and nation states was embodied in the promise of a day to celebrate peace and to advance a commitment to end all wars.
In 1938, Congress approved the date of November 11 as a legal holiday – “a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as Armistice Day.” Think of it: a national holiday for peace.
Following WWII, the Korean War and with the emergence of Cold War era rhetoric, in 1954, Congress amended the act of 1938, rebranding the day as Veterans Day. The honoring of the military service of veterans took center stage over a day to celebrate peace. The one day set aside to encourage peaceful relations among people and nations through disarmament and pacifism faded into the background.
Covid in veteran homes and veteran suicides
There is some good news about the Covid pandemic: The virus is retreating, even though the fight with the Deltavariant continues. Although no longer frontpage news, according to a recent Politico article, there are still structural issues confronting state run Veterans homes and their handling of Covid, in particular, “fundamental gaps and idiosyncrasies in regulation, oversight and accountability.”
In the headlines these days are military suicides. Brown University’s Cost of War report “estimated 7,057 service members have died during military operations since 9/11, while suicides among active duty personnel and veterans of those conflicts have reached 30,177 — that’s more than four times as many.”
The report continues: “The post-9/11 wars refer to ongoing U.S. – led military operations around the world that grew out of President George W. Bush’s ‘Global War on Terror’ and the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.” As for an explanation, the report states, “These high suicide rates are caused by multiple factors, some inherent to fighting in a war and others unique to America’s ‘war on terror’ framework. Partially, they are due to risks common to fighting any war: high exposure to trauma, stress, military culture and training, continued access to guns, and the difficulty of reintegrating into civilian life.”
Another contributing factor in leading to high suicide rates is lack of access by veterans to quality and timely healthcare, in particular, routine psychological or mental care services. The uneven access to appropriate mental health services for veterans echoes the disparities in access to quality mental health services for the general population.
Veterans and military sexual trauma
The US military recruits both women and men. The problem of sexual violence within the military is extensive and the impact is unavoidable. Military Sexual Trauma (MST) is the term used by the Department of Veterans Affairs to describe experiences of sexual harassment and sexual assault committed by one service member against another. Female service members are more like to be sexually assaulted by a fellow member of the military than shot by an enemy combatant at war. Service members who experience sexual assault do not have the option of leaving their military job and unit cohesion makes reporting the violence difficult.
Black veterans and racism
Thanks to two films, Strange Victory (1948), which portrays a shameful irony, the ideals of the allied fight and victory in WWII vis-a-vis the racist Jim Crow violence in the United States, and Men of Bronze (1977), which documents the struggles of WWI black American soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment with US Army establishment racism and segregation, I began to develop a deeper understanding of the black veteran experience.
Having lived in the southern United States during my dad’s tour of duty in South Vietnam and during two of his stateside duty stations, I witnessed the disgusting white civilian legacy of Jim Crow racism and segregation. However, during my dad’s 20-plus year tenure in the USAF, I didn’t meet a single black USAF military family or black USAF veteran.
Earlier this year, the executive director of the Black Veterans Project, Richard Brookshire, called upon the US military to have an “honest reckoning” with systemic racism within its ranks, identifying issues of white nationalism, racial justice, and inequality in the ranks. The current secretary of defense, Lloyd Austin, the first African American to serve in that role, has acknowledged racism in the armed forces.
Signs of white nationalism in the military are nothing new. If you were paying attention, there are two scenes in Vietnam war combat veteran Oliver Stones’ film, Platoon, where a Confederate battle flag, now recognized as an emblem primarily used by racists who support hate and white nationalism, is prominently displayed.
Veterans and weapons production and sales
The United States remains the world’s leading producer of weapon systems. James D. Taiclet, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Lockheed Martin Corporation, the leading US weapons manufacturer (as of 2019), is an Air Force veteran. There are two other military veterans on the board.
The Biden Administration announced November 4 that it had approved a $650 million sale of Raytheon-made air-to-air missiles to Saudi Arabia, a country with a dismal human rights record that included, on October 2, 2018, the assassination of dissident reporter Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Five military veterans sit on the board of Raytheon and the Raytheon website encourages both military veterans and military spouses to pursue a post-military career with the company.
Veterans and video gaming
During Veterans Day, Americans will find time to enjoy symbolic or imaginary combat, not in just American style football and Hollywood combat movies, but in ‘first-person shooter’ (FPS) video games. The manufacturers of Six Days in Fallujah video game claim it “recreates true stories of Marines, Soldiers and Iraqi civilian during the toughest urban battle since 1968.” Typically, in fictional accounts of war, active duty or retired military officers act as advisors and scripts are approved by the Department of Defense.
However, it is doubtful that any video game can capture a realistic war experience in a video game. WWII combat veteran and American independent filmmaker Samuel Fuller 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.”
Nonetheless, video war-game violence is the kind of action that attracts the attention of military recruiters. Diegetic violence engineered and experienced from a safe distance is also the cutting edge of US military’s future of combat, that is to say, drone warfare. The frontier for the next war is not just air space but Outer Space with so-called unmanned instruments and systems of war that incorporate Artificial Intelligence. Think robotic killing. Think armed drones on steroids.
LGBTQ military veterans
Until recently, many countries, including the United State, banned gays and lesbians from serving openly in the armed forces. Gays and lesbians service members remained “invisible” or were given a Section-8 “blue discharge” for being homosexual. Exclusion was rationalized by the prevailing argument of the 20th Century, which focused on military effectiveness and on any potential negative impact with regard to unit cohesion and privacy concerns.
The US was one of the last developed nations to overturn its ban on allowing gays, lesbians and bisexuals to openly serve in the military when it repealed the Clinton Administration’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy” in 2010. Implementation of the repeal began in 2011. Acceptance of LGBTQ in the military expanded during the Biden Administration with the lifting of the transgender ban in 2021.
There are estimated to be more than 1 million LGBTQ Americans who are military veterans.
Veterans and failed war making
US combat troops departed Afghanistan Oct 7, 2021, bringing an apparent end to America’s longest war. Since my Dad served in the Vietnam War (1967-68), I paid attention to the lead up and exit of US troops and personnel from South Vietnam in April 1975. Policy failures lead to defeat on the ground in the last three wars (Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan) and confirm US-based imperial war-making institutions and leaders failed to learn lessons from these interventions. The Vietnam War didn’t end when all US troops departed; the same will be true in Afghanistan. The long-term effects of all wars will continue to have an impact on veterans.
Veterans and military dependent families
The simple truth is that some veterans have families while serving on active duty in the military.
As a former Air Force military dependent child of more than 15 years, I find the almost complete invisibility in the national corporate media of the military dependent family appalling. These are the military-parent-spouse and military-children who are most directly involved in the emotional support of the parent-soldier-veteran. Their material circumstances are all but unknown to most Americans.
However, during the Biden-Harris Inauguration of January 20, 2021, embedded in a 90-minute national corporate broadcast special, the “Parade Across America”, was a short video segment of 46 seconds which featured three, self-identified, military-connected kids, from the Naval Air Station in Sigonella, Italy. Each kid spoke to the camera accompanied by their modestly dressed military-parent-spouse and their parent-soldier in dress uniform. Camera movements and graphics make the clip something comparable to a public service announcement.
The video clip was certainly scripted and rehearsed and the three-speaking military-connected kids had the benefit of guidance and direction by media professionals. However, for the first time, millions of American civilians were introduced in a very small way to the existence of military dependent families.
My immediate impression was shaped by three words,military-connected kids. In those fleeting 46 seconds there was no self-reference to the degrading and demeaning military brat label.
In response to this national corporate TV broadcast, I wrote to every mainstream military online publication asking for comment. I included my own comments about the clip. I even wrote the Biden-Harris administration looking for an explanation as to why military dependent families from were included in the “Parade Across America.” I didn’t get a reply from any source. Why the radio silence?
The video clip, with its unglamorous, down-to-earth and humble imagery of military-connected kids and their military-parent-spouses, just did not achieved an idealized representation of this aspect of military life. Such unflattering imagery of a subculture replete with an unexplored history and a myriad of under-debated issues might generate difficult questions for government and military leaders regarding the military family.
Veterans and military spending
The most critical feature of the what the military will do the rest of the year began with the President’s Fiscal Year 2022 Budget request of $752.9 billion for the Department of Defense. That’s a lot of dollars from American taxpayers. Congress will likely allocate that level of funding. That number places the US military at the top of a list of the ten countries with the highest military spending. Also, that amount is more than the rest of the nine other countries on that list combined.
As if to reinforce my worst assessment of the U.S. military’s national and global bootprint,Brown University released its Cost of Warproject September 1, 2021. The report revealed that the 20 years of post 9/11 wars have cost the US an estimated $8 trillion and have killed more than 900,000 people. That dollar amounts suggest the DoD absorbed a great majority of the federal government’s discretionary budget.
And even with that kind of spending, many military dependent families struggle to find high quality child care and medical care coverage for the Tricare young adult. Many military families also experience food insecurity. Due to their invisibility in the corporate media, you wouldn’t know their situation.
Veterans and military installations
The US military spreads it influence around the globe due to the quantity of its military installations. My dad, a career United States Air Force non-commissioned officer, was stationed at three of them. The estimated 800 plus installations in 70 countries remains a testament to the US militarization of the nation and the globe. That’s called conquest.
And when the US military conquers territory, that’s it. It stays. Remember Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba? How is it possible that the US military maintains a military installation in a country considered an enemy? The Cuban government claims the U.S. presence is an illegal occupation.
Of the total number of US military installations, there are 400-500 bases stateside, several in some states. My dad and my military dependent family were stationed at six of them. Also, my dad completed Temporary Duty assignments at many more. Although active duty military and reserve personnel numbers for the services hover around two million (2017), there are 500,000 more military dependent family members than men and women in uniform (2017).
By my count, my dad was away on active duty in the military from “our internal perimeter” for almost four years.
Veterans and military PR events
I live on the westside of San Francisco. As a resident, I supposedly reside inside a “blue” political demographic, in fact, “in the blue of the blue.” If you know the city, in October, Fleet Week is celebrated. A Navy, Marine and Coast Guard tradition since 1935, civilians, veterans and active duty personal can visit US Navy warships docked in the bay and watch Navy war planes take to the skies over San Francisco.
I can avoid the Navy ship visit,butthe flight path of those Blue Angels, aerial instruments of death and a Fleet Week highlight of high production values, do their best to boom by above my neighborhood. I saw enough of this kind of public relations offensive and entertainment spectacle for civilians as an Air Force military dependent kid. I wasn’t impressed then and I am certainly not impressed now.
Fleet Week reminds of the phrase from antiquity, “bread and circuses.” Elites in the past sought public approval by entertaining or distracting that public. I first heard the modern equivalent, “guns and circuses,” in my twenties. I didn’t get it.
These days I look around, and yes, TV, social media, and internet content remains cheap, Pentagon spending is at a record high, gun sales are surging, and all the while too many Americans are food insecure. Even the affluent westside of the city where I reside has a pop-up food pantry every Friday just a few blocks away.
The United States Space Force has been officially funded and is now included as one of the eight US uniformed services. It became the first new independent military service since 1947. Corporate Media comparisons to the popular TV series Star Trek are way off the mark. It isn’t really a new feature of the US military or military warfare. Its history is embedded in the Cold War, the Vietnam War, the Falklands War, the U.S. invasion of Grenada, the US bombing of Libya and the US invasion of Panama. And its mission isn’t to “explore strange new worlds” but to achieve military domination for the United States and its allies.
Atomic veterans and the nuclear weapons ‘bank’
My first exposure to Atomic Veterans came about when I saw the documentary Paul Jacobs and the Nuclear Gang (1979). The film revealed the US government’s coverup of the health hazards of radiation exposure related to the 1950s atomic bombing testing in Nevada and investigated the results of those bomb tests on unknowing civilians and soldiers.
After leaving the armed services, many veterans developed serious health complications, including cancer. Seeking assistance and compensation from the Veterans Administration, some claims were denied as the US government asserted that the veterans were not exposed to unsafe levels of radiation.
That was the research and development and testing stage.
I still remember where I was when I first thought of the nuclear arsenal accumulated by the United States military as a kind of bank account from which even a small withdrawal meant doom. I later learned that some of that money spent on those weapons was borrowed money which required regular debt payments from the Federal government. Moreover, military nuclear arsenal assets, hardware and software, cannot be swapped out and will never be available as ready cash—think of the absolute absence of any liquidity to this investment. The dollar value of the US nuclear arsenal in 1996 (the only numbers I could find) was at a minimum, $5.5 trillion. The social impact of those dollars will be forever excluded from the amelioration of the many social and economic problems confronting our society.
Veterans and the military labor market
The making of a veteran begins with enlisting in an active duty military service.
My dad was drafted in 1948 during peace time and enlisted in the new military service, the United States Air Force. After the start of the Korean War, Congress, in 1951, passed Public Law 51, amending the Selected Service Act of 1948, in particular, extending enlistments for service members like my dad.
My dad’s words: “I’d planned to leave the Air Force after my first tour but after the start of the Korean War, I got frozen in.”
Doesn’t that remind you of the U.S. military’s Stop-losspolicy that came to light in the early to mid 2000s regarding the active duty extensions of U.S. troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan troops? The upshot: The Stop-losspolicy had been used to involuntarily extend a service member’s initial active duty service obligation under an enlistment contract.
Veterans and military environmental contamination
Agent Orange exposure with its long term health impact on Vietnam era veterans as well as the people and environment of Vietnam was my introduction into how war has a deep environmental angle.
If you are new to San Francisco, its significant contributions to World War II may not be so obvious. But that legacy remains, lurking in the background. Treasure Island, as a former Naval Station located in the bay, was a site where the Navy dumped radioactive material and other contaminants. Hunters Point Shipyard, located in the southeast corner of the City, was the site of the Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory where ships exposed to atomic weapons were ‘cleaned’ and toxic and radioactive waste was dumped. Hunters Point Shipyard is a Federal Superfund Site on the National Priorities list. The Navy kept secret these dangerous substances, and as a result, exposed military personnel to future cancer risks.
On November 3, 2021, Congressional representative Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) introduced a resolution aimed at monitoring and reducing the carbon footprint of the US military—the single largest institutional source of greenhouse gas emissions on the planet. The resolution also called on the Pentagon to release its delayed annual greenhouse gas emissions report. No one will escape the effects of climate change, not even veterans.
Veterans and Homelessness
When it comes to veterans taking to the streets, I don’t think of Veterans Day parades but of homeless veterans who live on those same streets. My initial reaction some 40 years ago when I resided in New York City was: How can this happen?
But it has been happening for long before the 1970s.
In 1932, homeless veterans were part of the Bonus Army. During the Truman Administration, there were 100,000 homeless veterans in Chicago. In 1987, the number of homeless veterans was as high as 300,000.
Veterans have unique challenges when it comes to affordable housing. Not only must they navigate the housing market, they often face economic hardships, for example, paying rent in a city like San Francisco where the access fees are exorbitant.
Moreover, veterans returning from deployments in as Afghanistan and Iraq, not to forget Korea and Vietnam, often struggle with the invisible wounds of war that include post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. This only complicates the search for safe and affordable housing.