Arthur I Cyr
Veterans Day, celebrated on November 11, is a cause for contemplation and celebration. Parades featuring people in uniform – those who currently serve, those who have served and others who protect us – should always be welcome. Military uniforms remind us of the role of war in our history – and our present.
Since ancient times, parades have been essential in the reintegration of warriors into society. War is deeply disruptive and disturbing as well as dangerous. Even the rare man who finds combat invigorating and rewarding is in dire need of a welcome home after the murder.
Homer, chronicler of the Trojan War, is extremely sensitive to it. The great classic is divided into two parts. âThe Iliadâ focuses on battles and related events involving Greeks and Trojans; âThe Odysseyâ describes the very long return journey of the Greek leader Ulysses and his men. They traverse allegorical geography, struggling to put the horrors behind them.
General George S. Patton Jr., a very great American combat leader, was extremely attentive to this dimension. A special ceremony at the Los Angeles Coliseum after the surrender of Nazi Germany featured Patton and General James Doolittle, who led the first air raid on Tokyo shortly after Pearl Harbor.
Patton celebrated the achievements of his Third Army in the victorious race across Europe. In honoring his troops, he particularly focused on the 40,000 who lost their lives. Patton made such statements regularly over the remaining few months of his own life.
During World War II, the peoples freed from Axis occupation welcomed Allied troops. Naturally, our media have attached particular importance to this dimension. The Korean War created a very strong bond between the United States and the people as well as a very effective South Korean army. The First Gulf War liberated an oppressed population.
The wars in Vietnam and Iraq / Afghanistan were different. In Vietnam, the soldiers were strongly encouraged, sometimes summoned, to keep quiet. Opposition to the war has turned into hostility towards our own army. There was no collective foster home. Many aging veterans of this war suffer without Odysseus, troubled – and embarrassing, sometimes criminally.
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were once again different. Visits to Washington DC are a reminder of the visibility of military personnel in uniform, especially on public transport. The decisive end of the military project by President Richard Nixon was crucial in the change.
However, the often rapid turnover of personnel to war zones is unfair and counterproductive. Huge psychological stresses join the physical dangers, and families suffer tremendously. Completely voluntary military recruiting has made our services relatively separate from the rest of our American society.
The military remains a vital engine for equality and opportunity. General Colin Powell and many others demonstrate this. Powell, of humble origins, has secured the highest civilian and military positions in our government.
Powell noted that he had been discriminated against in the South, but never in office. Our military emphasizes merit.
November 11 is a time of reflection while honoring Veterans, individually and collectively. Encourage them to run for office. We won the Cold War in part because members of the WWII generation also served in government. Every US president from Harry Truman to George HW Bush was a veteran. Today things are very different.
What we need most of all is the kind of sane realism that the women and men who have served bring to politics.
Find out more: “Patton – A Genius for War”, by Carlo D’Este and the film “Patton”
Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War” (NYU and Palgrave / Macmillan). Contact [email protected]