Is there something ironic about honoring our veterans one week after people failed to take advantage of one of the greatest things they’ve defended for us?
I speak of voter turnout last week. The New York Times reported the worst voter turnout in 72 years. I find this amazing because we’ve made it ridiculously easy to vote, so much so that I suspect we’re moments away from casting our votes via a device called iVote. I’m sure Apple’s working on it right now.
I don’t criticize the low voter turnout because I’m appalled at the results – although I am; I criticize because we talk about honoring veterans and it seems we truly don’t know what that means anymore.
Honoring the men and women who were willing to lay down their lives for our freedom – for our right to elect our own leaders, run our own government, or, if the system isn’t working, change it completely – has become little more than a marketing gimmick.
Let me ask you: When’s the last time you thanked a veteran? Veterans Day has passed, and while we do a bang-up job of saluting and honoring our veterans a few times a year, how many of you have told a veteran “thank you” on any non-holiday?
While (hopefully) many, if not most of you, know what I mean, let me explain for the few of you who may not. I, like many Americans, find it appropriate and necessary to thank men and women who have served our country. I do not always agree on why we send people to fight, but I do agree that being willing to defend our country is something worthy of gratitude. When I see someone who is wearing something, be it a uniform or a ball cap, that indicates he or she has served, I make a point of approaching them and saying, “Thank you for your service.”
I thought everyone did this. I was wrong. A few years ago I was at an American Legion ceremony when I saw a colleague and her husband. Her husband had fought in the Middle East, something I discovered that day in conversation. I told him “thank you” and he thanked me.
“Why is she thanking you?” his wife asked him. I looked at her and she truly looked puzzled.
“Because he served our country,” I said.
“Oh,” she said, and then giggled and turned to her husband. “People thank you for that?”
“I take it this doesn’t happen much,” I said, and he shook his head and said no.
I was shocked, because I assumed as a veteran’s wife she understood the sacrifices he made and why people would approach him to say thank you. Even more so, I was mortified that this was apparently the first time anyone had ever thanked him in her presence.
In a way, though, this represents how we all have failed our veterans. Yes, she should have known, but honestly? I don’t think she’s an anomaly. We throw plenty of parades and yes, we certainly go crazy when we think someone is disrespecting our troops (do a Google search for “President George W. saluting while holding his dog” or “President Obama holding a cup of coffee”, and you’ll see what I mean), but what we don’t do is think about what these men and women were defending.
Here’s a hint: It’s our right to listen to the Tea Party Republicans, or the real Republicans. It’s our right to listen to NPR or believe in Krishna, Jesus, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It’s your right publish a newspaper without government interference, and also your right to express your opinion and not go to jail. It’s our right to elect our own leadership.
I don’t believe parades are enough to repay the men and women who deliver those rights. A day off so you can go to the beach and grill hot dogs isn’t exactly what I’m thinking, either, just as I don’t believe putting 50 flags in front of your business honors anyone.
If you want to honor the men and women who serve, here’s what you do. One: When you see someone who has served, say thank you. You needn’t wait for a holiday or a parade. Two: Raise an American flag – one –, and do it right. If you don’t know how, visit USHistory.org/flag. Three: Vote. People died for our right to do that, too, and every time you don’t vote, it’s an insult to any man or woman who has laid down their life for us.
No soldier wants to go to war. They do it for love of country, because they believe in America. I love my country, too, but I never considered enlisting. That’s the difference between me and the men and women who served: I doubt they wanted to go overseas and fight Germans or Communists or Iraqis or Al-Qaeda. The difference is, they went and I didn’t.
That is worth my gratitude, not just on holidays, but every day – especially on Election Day.