We should all look forward to a time when military force is not necessary, or at least only extremely rarely. As the world has become more peaceable over time, this is not an unrealistic expectation, but a straight-forward projection, barring the unforeseen. But today is not that day and we still need to see to defense.
There is much good and bad to be said about being a veteran and the recent wars, but today I am given to fond thoughts of the women and men I served with. Many are some of the finest people I have ever known. Some were or are good friends, and some were something beyond friendship, a kinship-like thing we have no label for. I deeply miss them, and salute them this Veteran’s Day.
For everyone else, I thought this is a good day to talk about things all veterans know. Some of them may be counter-intuitive to civilian ears, I suspect.
1. Socialism is good. Granted, not every soldier conceptualizes their job as socialism in practice, but it is. Everyone knows in the military you get free healthcare, but it isn’t just that. Food & housing are always guaranteed and paid for. There are benefits that discount or offer for free education, legal assistance, financial counseling/training, psychological and other types of counseling, child care, and more. For servicemembers there is almost every kind of safety net and social benefit possible. And it is amazing. It drastically changes your quality of life by removing from consideration so many things that cause people to worry themselves to death, or ruin them financially.
The benefits aren’t just practical, but psychological. It’s not possible to feel unvalued by society when you have so many safety nets and affordances. Until the recent wars had lingered on for years, the US suicide rate was 12 times higher than that of the Air Force. During peacetime, the military has much lower rates of depression and suicide. It’s not hard to see why.
These benefits are not gifts. Soldiers are workers, they do jobs that society decides it needs done. It’s unfortunate that we reserve these benefits for soldiers and others that risk their safety and forfeit personal liberties.
2. Peace is better. When I was a brand new airman in 2002, I met some gung-ho war type soldiers. Hell, maybe I was, too. I thought I’d be going to help hunt Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. By 2005, when I deployed to Iraq, I never found anyone like that again. Instead I met disgruntled reserve guys who were on their second year-long deployment away from their families wondering what the hell they were there for. Opinions about the war were divided, but almost nobody I met was enthused about deployment. At most, veteran soldiers saw it as necessary but hideous and awful. Assuming intact sanity, every multi-tour veteran knows the truth: peace is better.
3. Most of the “enemy” are with us on number 2. There are some truly heinous bastards in any warzone, but most of the people on both sides (especially the civilians) don’t care about the politics nearly so much as everything else. I met Iraqis who risked their lives working for us because, according to them, they had babies to feed. As I got to know some of them, I learned that their chief desires were familiar: safety and security for themselves and family, and maybe some whiskey and hashish for Saturday night. Talking about Saddam and Bush was like gossiping about celebrities.
And now it is time for some revel-atory ice cream and brownies.