Reporter's Note: This is Veterans Day, and the president marked it with a traditional visit to Arlington. I mark it with my daily letter to the White House.
Dear Mr. President,
We should make no mistake about this: They fought these wars alone. For all of our talk about the shared struggle of our nation as we have slogged through the years in Iraq and Afghanistan, most of us felt no impact whatsoever. Our troops went, fought, and now are coming home alone.
We still went to the malls, walked our dogs, went out for sushi, and bought caramel lattes. We enjoyed soccer games with our kids, saw hit movies, and read the latest books.
We did not conserve gasoline, or ration sugar, or save tinfoil, or plant victory gardens. Most of the time, most of us, I would wager, forgot that our nation was even fighting.
Our disconnection from the ugly reality has been so complete that unless a visitor to our nation just knew we were at war, there was precious little to tell him so.
Does that matter? In a way, I suppose not. After all, technology has changed the way we wage war. For most conflicts, it appears we will no longer need those countless oceans of fighters that characterized the World Wars. So, whereas in the 1940’s almost everyone knew someone directly involved in the fighting and had to take part in air raid drills, or steel drives, or the like; now, that is just not the case.
But this should not be forgotten: The people who go to battle under the American flag still face real bullets, real bombs, and though they represent a much smaller percentage of our population than they once did, they still deserve real honor and respect from the rest of us. They have earned our help in finding jobs as they return home, and our support as they try to adjust to the peaceful life that the rest of us have enjoyed all along.
When we say the word “veteran,” I think a lot of us picture an old man in a VFW parade waving a small flag, and saluting during the national anthem. But we are surrounded by much younger veterans now, and on this Veterans Day they ought to be remembered and thanked...even if we barely noticed when they were gone.
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