America must respect, not glorify, veterans
Across America, bumper stickers proudly proclaim “Support Our Troops.” People stand up at sports games to honor the veterans in the crowd. Every Veterans Day, Facebook timelines explode in a cacophony of red, white, and blue. Pithy political comics use injured veterans to mock those who question the army. In some cases, the word “veteran” has become synonymous with “hero.”
The United States claims to adore its military and veterans, and recent events have only reinforced this claim. According to The Washington Post, there was a public outcry when Saturday Night Live (SNL) made a joke at the expense of Dan Crenshaw, “a former Navy SEAL and the newly elected Republican representative from Texas’s 2nd Congressional District.”
A little background: Crenshaw wears an eye patch because he lost his eye to an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan on his third combat tour. During the "Weekend Update" segment, SNL comedian Pete Davidson made a couple cracks at his appearance, including a comparison to a "hit man in a porno movie." After the episode aired, both Democrats and Republicans demanded an apology on behalf of all veterans. SNL, usually unapologetic in its satire, complied. The next episode showed Davidson making an in-person apology to Crenshaw.
At around the same time, there was another veteran-related fiasco, this time centered on President Trump. According to The Huffington Post, Trump skipped a visit to the Aisne-Marne American cemetery, the resting place of almost 2,000 American soldiers killed in World War I. He claimed that the weather prevented the visit, prompting hundreds of pictures on Twitter of other politicians giving speeches in the rain. A few days later, he made another blunder when he failed to go to Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day. His excuse was that he was “busy on calls for the country.” Predictably, this excuse also generated backlash.
These uproars, and similar ones throughout history, prove that Americans are quick to defend their hallowed veterans. But while there are heroic people in the military, the widespread adulation of its members can be troublesome.
America’s adulation of veterans and military personnel is not a benign social phenomenon. First, it allows bad apples to thrive and spread their rot. In the National Review, a former major says that “though I’ve seen heroism in the military, I’ve also seen craven corruption, cynical exploitation of the public, and grotesque incompetence.” He continues to say that deference and awe should be earned, and the mere act of donning a uniform is not enough. Treating military members like saints creates fertile ground for scandals and exploitation.
Second, military worship obfuscates the harm of U.S. imperialism. Despite what millions of school children have been taught, the army is not always fighting for our freedom. The government has its own interests, and it has been known to use the military as a weapon through tactics like drone strikes and bombings, leaving torn countries and shattered families in its wake. If we call every single member of the military a hero, we do a great disservice to the victims of U.S. imperialism and collateral damage.
Finally, military worship doesn’t actually do anything to help struggling veterans. Veterans need better treatment and a more efficient Department of Veterans Affairs. They need tangible laws and policies. They need dedicated and highly trained support networks. They definitely do not need empty praise. In other words, you can slap as many American flag filters on your profile picture as you want, but it means nothing if you still avoid eye contact with the homeless veteran sitting on the sidewalk outside your office.
If we want to improve our military, we must take a moment to realize simply vocalizing our praises to veterans is not enough. If we want to help people suffering from U.S. imperialism, let's begin to ask ourselves how to move past the aftermath. If we want to help veterans themselves, let's help create policies to support them. There is a difference between reverence and respect, and moving from the former to the latter is not a disgrace; it’s necessary.