It’s somehow appropriate that the U.S. observance of Veterans Day falls within a week or so after our national Election Day. Many of us are persuaded that without the brave men and women who risk — and too often give — their lives in service to their country, there would be no elections.
And no government by the people.
And certainly no freedoms.
And the noble pronouncements contained in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution would be nothing more than absolute literature abandoned during the course of history. Brave patriots risked their lives and fortunes to establish the United States of America, but most of us recognize that the principles upon which the nation was founded must be sustained by every generation. Our independence must be cultivated daily, and in many ways it must be won anew in perpetuity.
Elections are the signature events through which this nation accomplishes that. It is an opportunity for the people to overthrow the government every time the polls open. This year, the “revolt” turned out to be more evolutionary than revolutionary. Some new faces will show up when Congress convenes in January, but the basic structure remains as it has in recent year: The same president, and the same parties hold majorities, in the legislative branch.
The majority of Americans have decided to give another chance to the leaders who couldn’t, wouldn’t or simply refused to get things done in the past. Hopefully, while out on the campaign trail, they heard from their constituents that tough decisions cannot be postponed any longer. Sticking to your convictions is one thing. But good people with different ideas on how mutual goals can be reached must be accommodated in order for progress to occur. The time for posturing is past. Veterans did not fight and die for a nation whose representatives will not reason with each other.
My first encounter with a veteran came very early in life. My father served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. My mother spoke of his service more often than Dad did, and the longest conversation about it came when I found a copy of Dad’s Bluejacket’s Manual while we were cleaning out his old footlocker so I could take it to summer camp.
As is the case with many veterans, and especially those who served in World War II, Dad didn’t talk about his wartime experiences very openly. He died in 1985, and I regret not having pressed him for more details.
I do not wish to diminish the service of men and women who went into battle in other wars. They risked their lives, and they left behind civilian careers and loved ones just as members of what we know as the “greatest generation” did.
I honor veterans especially from the wars and conflicts since then, because it seems likely that they may have prevented a third global conflict.
But historians are unanimous in concluding that our world would be a horribly different place had World War II not ended the way it did. The leaders of the nations that the United States and its allies fought were determined to conquer the planet, and their methods were cruel and brutal. War itself is cruel and brutal, and Americans choose to engage in it reluctantly. In some situations, that results in a pulled-punches philosophy that works against us, or leaves some unfinished business. It’s not an easy call to make, and only in hindsight can we see what could have been done differently.
None of this, however, should diminish the bravery and heroism of our veterans of every era. They do not make the decision to engage an enemy on his home turf, nor to put themselves in the line of fire to establish or preserve a people’s right to self-determination. They are not only the finest fighting force the world has ever seen, but also the most principled, most disciplined and most humane warriors the world has ever seen.
Americans honor them this Veterans Day weekend, and the opportunity to do so is a privilege that’s just as much our duty as voting was. As the son of a sailor, may I offer veterans from all branches of service this naval blessing, “Fair winds and following seas.”
I would like to offer a word of appreciation to the Bulletin for allowing me the opportunity to continue my column. As many of you predicted, days spent in “retirement” are almost as busy as working for a living. I will be as faithful to this weekly visit as possible. I welcome your feedback, either to the office or to email@example.com.
Gene Deason, former editor of the Brownwood Bulletin, has been writing a Friday column, with brief interruptions, since July 1977.