Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Celebrations of Veterans Day often more about civilians

If you listen to those who write letters to the newspaper, every civilian is scum around Memorial Day or Veterans Day.

We’ve been at war for nearly 10 years, and while I have no problem with saluting the military for outstanding work in defending the nation, it’s the civilians and former military types in the civilian world who are making me ashamed. When did our national holidays become excuses for jingoistic chest-pounding?

They weren’t like this when I was in the Marines.

I was at work on Memorial Day and will be on Veterans Day, as I am on almost every holiday, and I saw a photo on the Associated Press wire of a person with his hand over his heart singing “God Bless the USA” by Lee Greenwood. Is that our second national anthem now? True, “The Star-Spangled Banner” is a song that is to be sung at events, and I have no problem with that despite its overtones, but the more aggressive, more modern “God Bless the USA” seems to be more in tune with the times.

I believe the national holidays serve an important role in our civil society. Presidents’ Day honors those few men who have risen above mediocrity in the office of the president of the country; Memorial Day honors those who have died in the uniform of our nation; July 4 celebrates the day our nation declared its independence from Great Britain; and Veterans Day honors those who have worn the uniform of an American military service.

Yet those holidays are turning into something very troubling. Nearly every one is now a blasting howl of anger from the military at the civilian population, and local police and fire departments are joining in.

As mentioned above, I thought Memorial Day was about those who have died in military service, yet in Gainesville the whole shebang seemed to have been hijacked by the fire department, and the meaning changed to those who are serving now. Some folks reinterpreted the holiday to mean those who have died as firefighters; a woman quoted in a local story talked about her father, a firefighter, who was killed in a car accident and yet claimed equivalence to someone killed in battle.

Police and especially fire departments are quite adept at seizing military observances. With their military-like rank structure, military veteran personnel, uniforms, service and valor decorations (including the right to wear military service and valor ribbons on police and fire department dress uniforms) and color guards, their personnel are usually the most available people when martial pomp and circumstance is needed at some event at a military cemetery.

With other pseudo-military outfits like the Florida Guard (as opposed to the Florida National Guard) and military junior ROTC units from high schools, we are becoming a society totally in thrall to uniforms, ribbons, rank and martial music.

Local elected officials seeking to curry favor with police and fire unions are eager to show up, and pseudo-military chaplains are eager to lend a hand as well.

I always thought that I’d stand in awe and quiet reverence and contemplation at a military cemetery, not sway to Lee Greenwood’s U.S. version of the “Horst Wessel Lied.”

Is this what we’ve come to as a society and a nation? Isn’t anyone else worried about the tendencies we’re seeing here? Will there come a day when we decide that, well, having a military dictatorship wouldn’t be so bad?

If you don’t think they wouldn’t use such holidays to stifle dissent and keep us in line, read William L. Shirer’s “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.” His descriptions there and in “Berlin Diary” show how the German version of Memorial Day was turned into something that ended with the military swearing total allegiance to the Leader.

We should honor and respect the military, but let’s remember that they exist to serve us. Continuing obsequious adulation may make us feel less guilty about what we ask of the military, but we should do everything in moderation.

And remember, people in the military are paid, get free medical and housing, and many, many other benefits civilians don’t get, something I was often reminded of when I was in the service and often failed to appreciate.

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November 6, 2011 - Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age | , , , , , , ,

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