by Guest Author Ross Caputi
Most Americans believe Veterans Day is a day of remembrance; in reality, it’s generally a day of forgetting.
On Veterans Day, people applaud as veterans march in parades, wearing their medals and fancy uniforms. People who have never seen or smelt war’s rotting corpses bask in an atmosphere of pride and patriotism, suppressing inconvenient memories of hundreds of thousands of civilians killed in Iraq, millions in Vietnam, hundreds of thousands in Korea, and so on throughout our nation’s short and bloody history.
On Veterans Day, we are spared all the unpleasantries that might give us pause about the value or benevolence of our wars. We listen to the bands playing, but ignore the troubles faced by returning veterans. Where is the glory in PTSD, addiction, suicide?
On Veterans Day, we make believe that support for the troops is apolitical. Just like the victims of our wars, the reasons why young Americans have been asked to go to war, and the consequences of those wars are conveniently forgotten and nobody seems to notice.
On Veterans Day, we are called upon to remember America’s wars, sanitized of the harm they brought to countless victims around the world, and abstracted from their historical and political context. We are asked to support our veterans while forgetting the reality of what they participated in. It is a pleasant fairy tale, and I wish I could partake in it. But my experience as a Marine in Iraq has forever changed the way I look at war and the way I feel about being a veteran.
Let’s change the way we celebrate Veterans Day. Let’s make it a day of learning, not forgetting. Let’s be sympathetic to the ways veterans have suffered without ignoring the suffering of civilian victims. Let’s teach and learn about the wars in which our veterans have participated without glossing over the historical and political context in which they occurred. Let’s end the reflexive support for popular mythology, the jingoism, the cheer-leading, and the forgetting. Let’s refuse to encourage the next generation to follow in the footsteps of today’s veterans.