May 25, 2014

Thoughts on Memorial Day Weekend

Memorial Day: 'We Resolve That These Dead Shal...
Memorial Day: 'We Resolve That These Dead Shall Not Have Died In Vain' -- Naperville (IL) Riverwalk (Photo credit: Ron Cogswell)
I have long been a fan of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, watching it when I get the chance. If you have seen it lately, you'll know that Stewart seems to have taken up the problems with the VA's record system, delays in providing care, and the unwillingness of our elected officials to resolve the problems as his cause du jour. One of the things that has made his focus on this especially powerful is that he has been bipartisan in his criticism. The problems have spanned multiple administrations, both Democratic and Republican.

As Stewart pointed out in a recent episode, our government has a long history of feigning respect for the men and women who serve in the military and their families while providing a very different reality. He showed clips of elected officials praising those actively serving, veterans, and the families who have lost members in various wars, contrasting these clips with the harsh realities of refusal to provide aid to veterans and military families and the problems associated with the VA. Powerful stuff, and I find myself thinking about it this Memorial Day.

There does appear to be a large discrepancy between what we ask of those who serve in the military as we send them off to war and what we are willing to do for them when they return and for the families of those who do not return. We get so caught up in patriotism and American exceptionalism during the march to war that we refuse to consider the true costs of war. We rarely seem willing to think beyond the short-term expenses associated with the deployment.

Our politicians seem to compete with one another as to who can found most sincere in the respect they feign for those who serve and their families. They give speech after speech in which they refer to sacrifice, commitment, and freedom. They make all sorts of promises. Veterans will be provided with the best health care in the world. The families of those killed will be well cared for. And yet, in every war we have fought, many of these promises go unfulfilled.

Many veterans and many families of those who died in service to their country feel betrayed by their government. I find such feelings perfectly understandable, as they reflect an unfortunate reality. Many of these people feel betrayed because they have been betrayed. The promises they have heard and which they continue to hear even now rarely seem to be kept. Why is it that keeping these particular promises rarely seems to be the priority we are told that it is? And how is it that many of the same politicians who take every opportunity to present themselves as pro-military are often the first to cut aid to veterans and families of those lost?

There is another sense in which the brave men and women serving in our military, our veterans, and the families who have lost service members have been betrayed, one that falls on the rest of us. We have not stood up with them and demanded that our elected officials deliver on the many promises made in this area. We have allowed and continue to allow our elected officials to break these promises by not holding them accountable for doing so.

This Memorial Day, when I encounter people professing respect for the sacrifice of the families of slain service members, I will have but one question for them: what are you doing to help them now and to ensure that our government delivers on the many promises made to them?