By Shaun Evertson
Special to the Farmer
KIMBALL, Neb. – And so another Veterans Day has come. Tomorrow (Saturday) will be Nov. 11.
Nov. 11 was chosen because it marks the end of hostilities at the close of World War One, when an armistice went into effect at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. A year later, on Nov. 11, 1919, President Woodrow Wilson issued the first U.S. Armistice Day message.
In 1938 an Act of Congress made Armistice Day a legal holiday across the nation, designating “A day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as ‘Armistice Day’.” On June 1, 1954, Congress amended their previous Act, changing the name of the holiday from Armistice Day to Veterans Day, and Nov. 11 has been a national day to honor Veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces ever since.
There’s a lot of confusion out there about Veterans Day. This is unsurprising, because there’s a lot of confusion out there about our nation in general.
A great many people go out of their way to thank veterans on Veterans Day, and it’s become a bit of a national craze for non-veterans to say, “thank you for your service” whenever they encounter a veteran, regardless of the day. At times it can be a bit of a feeding frenzy.
This is all well and good, and sincere thanks offered sincerely is a very fine thing.
But many veterans secretly wish that non-veterans would take just a bit of time to research what veterans did and why they did it, and to think about military service in the context of the nation as a whole and of their own, individual responsibilities of citizenship in America.
For instance, what is it, exactly, that members of the U.S. Armed Forces serve?
The common platitude is, “they protect our freedom” or “they keep me free.”
In a small but important way this is true, for the military are the first line of fighting defense against foreign governments and foreign enemy fighters who would attempt to destroy the United States. In that sense, the military, and all veterans who have served, protect and have protected the sovereign freedom of Americans.
But Veterans have not and do not serve anything called freedom. Nor do they serve individual citizens, or individual cities, towns, or states, or the government, or congress, or the president. They have served and continue to serve something larger and much more important. It’s spelled out in black and white in the oath of enlistment/oath of office taken by all who serve in America’s armed forces:
“I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”
So it is in fact the Constitution of the United States that the U.S. Military serves, and – for all intents and purposes – have always served.
Why do you suppose this is so? In all other nations the military serve and swear allegiance to The State, or to The Crown, or to an individual leader. Why is America different?
There is an answer, and it’s contained in the text of our nation’s founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. These are documents worth reading.
As I noted above, there is a lot of confusion out there. Unfortunately, the confusion isn’t limited to uneducated or stupid people. Not too long ago a local elected official informed me the job of the military is to die for the non-military citizens of the land. “I expect people in the military to die for me,” this person said, “that’s what they get paid for and it’s my civil right. It’s in the Bill of Rights, “Freedom from Fear and Worry.” This person was surrounded by other local elected officials, each of them nodding their heads in solemn agreement.
Lest you think this can only happen with stupid officials elected by stupid people in a stupid little town, I invite you ask your own officials. I’d advise that you read up on the topic to begin with, and get a good solid handle on why the nation’s military does what
On the same day a fellow veteran told me, “The only reason this country exists is because of the military,” he said. “The only reason!”
Well. That’s not really true, is it?
A while back I was having this discussion with an award-winning college professor. I suggested the professor really had very little idea what serving in the military is like, since the professor had never served.
“Oh,” the professor said, “I’ve read plenty of books and watched plenty of movies. I think I know what it’s all about.”
In truth, though, no one can know what it’s like unless they’ve actually done it. Books and movies are great, and they provide plenty of food for thought. But there’s a world of difference between reading about it or watching a movie and actually doing it. That’s just a hard fact.
It’s probably a good idea for non-veterans to consider this fact, and come to terms with the reality that they’ll never know what it’s like. It’s okay to not know. And in not knowing, one can actually bestow a gift upon veterans everywhere – the gift of not relying on flawed assumptions about military service.
Believe it or not, that’s no small gift.
If you’d like to take it a step farther,
While men and women are busy serving in the military, who is doing the day-in, day-out heavy lifting of keeping the nation strong and fit? The military make up less than one percent of all Americans. What are the responsibilities of the other 99 percent? Who are the people who suit up and show up every day, and live as principled citizens of America?
Put it another way. In a nation where the very first document states that all men are created equal, it’s self-evident that there are no unimportant citizens and no unimportant jobs. The men and women of the military are there to fight the enemies of the United States, but that’s a small part of the total job of keeping America fit and strong. The day-in, day-out job of being a good citizen is equally important, and different.
What is good citizenship in America? What are the core principles of good citizenship? Why is it important?
Good citizenship is far more than paying taxes. It’s understanding, believing in, and living out the principles that founded this nation. This has to begin and end at a personal, individual level. Being a good American citizen is larger than, and more important than, politics or any political party. It’s larger and more important than labels. The fitness and strength of our nation lives in the hearts of individual citizens, in the hearts of the “all men” our founding fathers wrote about in the Declaration of Independence.
Having a strong and fit military is important to the survival of our nation. But plenty of other nations have strong and fit militaries. At the beginning of World War I and World War II, many nations had more military might than America. Yet we prevailed.
We prevailed because, for the most part, we were a nation of good, principled citizens, a nation of men and women who knew that the idea of America was far larger and far more important than any individual or group.
When you set our history against the national landscape of 2017, when you look at the indifference or outright hostility so many people hold for their fellows, you have to wonder how this is all going to turn out.
In the last decade we’ve gone from “hope and change” to “make America great again.” In both of these movements, a majority of folks have looked to national leadership and government for hope and change
Those things are not to be found in any elected official or in the government. They are to be found in one place, and one place only.
So tomorrow is Veterans Day. If you want to, by all means seek out and offer your thanks to veterans. But if you really, really want to thank a vet, spend some time thinking about the founding principles of our nation, and how they should guide each and every one of us in being a good American citizen.