In the early nineties I began to educate myself about AIDS and the staggering loss of life it caused. I read and heard too many accounts of people losing their friends at an age when that seemed impossible–all these young people taken at a time when their lives were either blossoming with new experiences and accomplishments or they were enjoying the results of those.
The only metaphor I could think of was war. Where else had young men and women seen their friends and equals (among their own and their enemies) die at such young ages but war? AIDS was a disease that laid waste to a generation the way Vietnam did my brother’s, or World War 2 my parents’, and the Gulf War my nephews’ and nieces’. As the great-granddaughter, daughter, and sister of soldiers and an airman, I was taught in my home to honor those who served, and it was a lesson that was repeated from every stage, podium, or pulpit.
Of course outside of the AIDS/HIV ravaged community, no one was advocating that we care about those fighting or suffering the losses in the war that was AIDS. In that way, AIDS more accurately depicted the reality I had come to understand about our military veterans as I grew older. Everybody says support our troops and puts it on magnets or bumper stickers. There are parades and speeches and even a day, today, created to recognize veterans.
In truth, we seem to deal much better with a different holiday–Memorial Day. We honor the dead and comfort their survivors. We lay wreaths and set flags on the graves of the lost. It’s uncomplicated for the larger community (though not so much for those who actually knew and loved the lost). Our throats close up and our eyes well with tears when we see those flag-draped coffins or hear the 21-Gun Salute.
In contrast, for me, for decades, the speeches on Veterans Day ring hollow because we don’t actually care for at least one segment of our veterans as we should–those who have seen battle or served in wartime or who have been trained to serve in wartime. The cost to the mental and physical health of soldiers, airmen, sailors, and marines is staggering. That isn’t to say there aren’t people trying–there are many groups of veterans who continue to serve each other. There are medical professionals and volunteers and families all engaged in a new war to save those who have seen and done things the rest of us never will. But the larger community, the nation as a whole, filters out the grim reality of the statistics of the costs of war and military service to those at home: drug use, alcoholism, domestic violence, unemployment, trauma, behavioral issues, and suicide.
Yesterday I read a Twitter thread that resonated with me in so many ways. I’m putting it here so I can go back to it. I hope it makes everyone who reads it uncomfortable. We should be uncomfortable. I wish I thought it would change things. But we still glorify battle (how many video/computer games exist that do just that, how many military-style weapons are in the homes of people who have no military training) and avert our eyes from or refuse even our compassion to those for whom such training was not a game, not a hobby. It begins with compassion. The national dialogue on AIDS changed because compassionate people outside the battle began to speak to their friends and families, even if it made them uncomfortable. But it only begins with compassion. After compassion must come awareness, education, and action.
I could extrapolate this to society’s other ills that culminate in atrocity (poverty, racism, sexism, for example). But today is for veterans. If we are going to train killers, then we need to provide a supportive care system to retrain them. Our healthcare system, our national discourse, and our efforts as individuals need to stop glorifying war even if we recognize it as a final necessity–my father did what he thought was right, and I believe he was right, too–and deal intelligently with its consequences.
Thread Reader is happy to present an unrolled Twitter story by @cmclymer
1/ I have some things to say about the Texas shooting. It’s gonna piss some people off, and that’s too bad. It needs to be said. (thread) 2/ I served in the Army. I was trained as an infantryman. A grunt. That’s about as nuts-and-bolts as it gets in