What Does Veterans Day Mean to You?


My husband (a Veteran), pointed me to an interesting column from the New York Times: Back From Home, But Not Really Home.  The article discusses some of the ambiguity of this day that honors the service of our Veterans and draws parallels to Odysseus’ homecoming.

In a time of war, our veterans may find they have difficulty re-entering the society they fought to protect.

One of the things that struck me is that Veterans Day may be more about us (the society) than them (the Veterans).  It makes sense for the survivors to honor the fallen during Memorial Day but why is Veterans Day also celebrated with a parade in which we have servicemembers march?  Is it really for the vets or is it so we can have public symbol that assures us we are honoring them and perhaps protects us from having to ask and attempt to answer the deeper questions. Questions about honor, duty, and the nature of war.

I’m also reminded of an essay I read a while ago, “On Sheep, Wolves and Sheepdogs” (From On Combat, by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman).  The old link does not seem to work but I found it here:

If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen: a sheep. If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath–a wolf. But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? Then you are a sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero’s path. Someone who can walk into the heart of darkness, into the universal human phobia, and walk out unscathed. [...]

The sheep generally do not like the sheepdog. He looks a lot like the wolf. He has fangs and the capacity for violence. The difference, though, is that the sheepdog must not, cannot and will not ever harm the sheep. Any sheepdog who intentionally harms the lowliest little lamb will be punished and removed. The world cannot work any other way, at least not in a representative democracy or a republic such as ours.

Still, the sheepdog disturbs the sheep. He is a constant reminder that there are wolves in the land. [...]

Until the wolf shows up. Then the entire flock tries desperately to hide behind one lonely sheepdog.

The whole thing is worth a read. And it brings up the question of how we treat our warriors who protect us from the wolves.  A fallen warrior is given full honors.  What about those who return?  How can we treat them as more than just an inconvenient reminder of the violence in the world we’d rather forget?  How can we truly show our appreciation to the living heroes?

Photo: Paul Keleher

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  1. [...] On Veteran’s Day in 2009, I wrote that I believe, as a nation, we have an easier time memorializing our dead than respecting our living veterans. [...]

  2. [...] you honor our fallen soldiers?On Veteran’s Day in 2009, I wrote that I believe, as a nation, we have an easier time memorializing our dead than respecting our living veterans.Except, of course, when the dead are our own.The nation is still in the grips of a conflict, the [...]