Veteran’s Day in 2020
This day is always profound for me. Not for some profound memory or reason, but because I remember this day as a child because TV stations will fill the day with movies of war and heroes. This had a profound effect on me as a child, as I imagine it does on our society, they way we idealize war and warriors.
Not surprisingly, I too joined the military when I was 17. Escaping reality, but also running towards the visions of glory I fed myself growing up.
My time in the Army does not define me, but it shaped me. I was no hero, far from it, but I learned a lot about myself and life. I especially learned that I needed to devote myself to something greater than myself in this life to feel fulfilled.
I learned that there really aren’t any lasting rewards to individual achievement or fame if you leave the team behind. I learned that so many people serve this country for so many reasons, only part of that is selflessness and duty. But through our service we all learned how to be selfless, how to do our duty.
Honoring a veteran is not about the choice they made to join, it is about who they became through that choice and the actions which served our country. We also learned that our country is not merely the institutions or the land, it’s our fellow citizens.
Most of them are so different from ourselves. Their lived experiences are varied and foreign compared to ours, but their values, their goals, and their culture are familiar and shared.
This is what I loved about being around men and women who made that choice to grow into a citizen through the military, it’s what I still value when I spend time with veterans and current members of the military.
But I’ve been fortunate enough to learn that there is an entire civilian corps serving the Federal government with similar choices, similar learning, similar values and service to the country. The oath we take to defend and uphold the constitution is the very similar as the oath I took when joining the military.
The contributions to our citizens through national security, wealth and prosperity, assistance and devotion are all the same. It’s even wrong to think that they aren’t as exposed to injury or death as much as the military, as many positions are.
It’s not about the uniform, it’s not about being a warrior or a civilian, it’s about dedicating your life to service of your fellow citizens, the ideals and institutions of this government and country that we make together.
It’s about seeing that service to some can make all of us better off — and solving problems together for our future, so that we incrementally are continuing to contribute to and make a better world around us.
As I know now, that was the dream. I recently explored this topic through C. Bradley Thompson’s book about the political philosophy of the American Revolution, America’s Revolutionary Mind. What really resonated for me, was not that the founding fathers conceived of a perfect, idyllic state.
What was brilliant is that they set the structure of a nation which was created, designed, and inspired to continue to grow and improve over time. And they hoped that as we improved as a nation, we would find ways to expand the boundaries of this upward trajectory for more and more our the citizens of our country, and the allies of our country.
The design and idea of our nation is not that we are perfect, it is that we can continue to work together and grow to continually become better. It’s admitting how flawed we are, but giving guide posts and mechanisms to continue to struggle and improve together — for everyone.
Think about the values of the declaration of independence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”.
They knew even writing these words, that they didn’t come close to achieving these ideals at the time. They lamented throughout the process of creating the United States that their reality fell far short of their values. But they understood that this was a concerted action to move closer to these ideals, to empower the country of themselves, their children, and descendants to continually pursue these values and work to make them as universal in practice as they believed them to be philosophically.
That is the grand design and belief which is continually fueled by their service of veteran’s to our country. The same as the civil service to their fellow citizens. But it is also fueled by the actions and devotion to these ideals by the actions of all citizens.
Remember the service and sacrifice of veteran’s on this holiday. But not because of the movies, books, and popular media portrayals of their service. Think about how necessary it is to help all of us grow closer to the ideals of this country. Remember that everyone can help contribute to these as well.
Also, nearly every veteran I know feels a little conflicted when you thank us for our service. We appreciate it, but we also feel uncomfortable because we never feel like we eared your gratitude because that was not our motivation. However, there are other ways to say “thank you”. Namely helping take care of our brothers and sisters who need the help of the nation they served. For some ways to give thanks, check out: https://www.thevetsproject.com/; https://mission22.com/; https://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/; and many others.