Tuesday, November 11, 2014



(Updated Wednesday November 12, 2014)

(Tuesday November 11, 2014, NYC)  It was once the great equalizer, the common experience that was the cementing mortar that held our society together.  When sacrifice is borne by all; shared across all strata of society, it creates a stronger more cohesive nation more prone towards unity than division. 

We are engaged and have been actively fighting wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and other lesser known locales under the auspices of our “war on terror” with an entirely volunteer military.  The generation of combat veterans, young warriors who have seen fierce, brutal battle, represent a mere 1% of their peer group and many of those who volunteered prior to September 11, 2001, had enlisted into the Reserves and National Guard primarily for the educational benefits used to attract young men and women to the military services.  Few, if any signed up for multiple deployments and the stresses that accompany such involvement.


By January 1973 we were a war weary country; a people who had long past the point of supporting our efforts in the jungles of that far off place that became synonymous with guerrilla warfare and the harsh brutalities of fighting a largely unseen enemy in an environment they knew intimately.  The public, particularly the parents of the young men and women serving in Vietnam were questioning the strategy, tactics and the rationale for continuing this protracted campaign, a campaign that would never grant us a clearly defined victory. 

And it was that year of 1973 on January 27th that President Nixon put a moratorium on the military draft and ultimately did away with it for good.  No longer would our military services be comprised of conscripts; service would from that time forward be voluntary.  Our country lost much in this exchange, perhaps far more than anyone could have realized back in that troubled summer of protest and open defiance of the draft in 1972 that culminated in the complete end of the draft as announced by Nixon on January 27, 1973. By the time the last troops were finally airlifted out of a riotous Saigon on April 30, 1975, the country and military would slowly come to terms with what felt like a defeat but Nixon called “Peace with Honor.”  For much of the nation and the military itself, the after effects known as the “Vietnam Hangover” set in and would ossify our military for years to come.  The military had lost its luster and had been marred by the harsh realities our troops had experienced and witnessed during a war like no one we had seen up to that time in our history.  It would take the military almost two decades to develop new strategies and tactics for guerrilla, “asymmetrical” warfare.


The Vietnam era marked the end of the concept of shared sacrifice.  No longer would young men from every city and town, of every race and creed, from every rung on the socioeconomic ladder forever have memories and at least that one similarity.  The country went from every young man being in “The Service” to a massive retreat from the military and an insidious vilification of Vietnam veterans, the kind of hostility and disdain previous legions of veterans had never experienced.  Those were dark days and it would be many years before the American public found their collectively lost spine and once again were willing to send troops to combat zones. 

But the troops who were sent to fight our battles were often drawn from the lowest caste of society.  The military became a refuge for those without other opportunities, for men and women to escape poverty and perhaps learn a trade of some kind that would allow them to prosper, at least minimally, in civilian life.  However, no matter their points of origin or intentions, they served with courage and valor whenever called upon to do so.

The shared sacrifice and common experience of past generations of veterans has become cheaply replaced by a largely unaffected public who fly the American flag in front of their homes and have “Support our Troops” bumper stickers on their pick-ups as if these are potent symbols of a patriot.  They are no such thing.  Most young people today and their parents wouldn’t think of having a son or daughter enlist in the military.  They have seen what those who served in Afghanistan and Iraq have been through; the multiple deployments because of a shortage of ready and qualified troops, a Veterans Administration system completely unprepared to adequately care for the thousands upon thousands of returning veterans with traumatic limb amputations, brain injuries and other horrific battle wounds as well as the unknown battalions of those who suffer, often in silence, wracked by PTSD, depression, alcohol and drug abuse, unemployment and even homelessness. An extremely disturbing and sad fact is that every 65 hours another combat veteran takes his or her own life.

When suicide on that scale becomes the norm there is something institutionally, almost sinfully wrong.  We as a people have not held up our end of "The Pact", the once sacred Covenant that assures our veterans of the care they need.   What are we as a country, as a people, that we stand idly by while tens of thousands of young people suffer these medical and mental maladies and the indignities of hunger, poverty and homelessness?  What is the message we are sending our veterans and anyone considering enlisting?  The answers to these questions say much about our shared neglect and that is directly related to our loss of shared experience.


There was a time when virtually all our elected officials including those in the Senate and House had served in the military.  Those men (those bodies were composed largely of men until the mid-1970’s) who had first-hand experience of the horrors of combat were far more deliberate and reluctant to put American troops “in harm’s way” without a clear threat to our national security or vital national interests.  Former Five Star General and United States President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, the famed World War II commander of the European theater of operations, often spoke of the caution that ought to be used before committing our troops to battle.  He also warned of the vast “military–industrial–congressional complex” that was developing towards his last years as President and how war-making was becoming a lucrative endeavor as the Cold War was developing.  Had his prescient warnings been heeded much of American military history over the last 60 years would have been very different.

If the chicken hawks and war-mongers in Congress continue to seek to commit our troops as they see fit, this time of perpetual warfare cannot be sustained solely by enlistees.  It is a matter of simple arithmetic and attrition.  There are only so many active troops available for foreign forays into ill-defined missions without fully understanding the stakes involved or even the facts on the ground, history of the warring factions and why, exactly, are “we” there. Military incursions without a clearly defined and acknowledged "exit strategy" will inevitably devolve into a murky quagmire. Once sucked into a quagmire and "nation building" our formidable military might is reduced to the facts on the ground which are always to our disadvantage. 

On this Veteran’s Day we should spend a moment contemplating the true meaning of the day, reexamine what patriotism means to us, and learn to not be content to blindly follow our elected officials into untenable combat circumstances.  We have intervened enough in the last 13 years.  We should also find it within ourselves the sufficient amount of gratitude that should be bestowed upon all veterans no matter when or where they served.  They are truly the best of us as a people and represent us best as a country.

 Copyright The Brooding Cynyx 2014 © All Rights Reserved

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