Every year, I appreciate all my friends who wish me a Happy Veterans Day because they are kind enough to remember that I wasn’t always a boring, middle-aged suburban mom and part-time consultant. In my youth, I sailed upon the high seas aboard the Navy’s finest warships in search of adventure and glory. Or so I recall. It was a while ago.
Because it’s Veterans Day and everyone seems inclined to indulge us vets, please allow me to offer a few thoughts about the military to my civilian friends:
- I hate the phrase, “boots on the ground.”
I don’t know why this grates on me so, but it’s like nails on a chalkboard whenever I hear it. Politicians and pundits like to pretend that anything short of thousands of soldiers advancing against the enemy isn’t really combat. Sorry folks, but creating no fly zones counts as an act of war. So does enforcing an embargo with destroyers or dropping bombs with unmanned aircraft. If it makes us uncomfortable to call it what it is, maybe we shouldn’t be doing it.
- Not all veterans are homeless, drug-addicted, or unemployed.
Some of us are pretty well adjusted, actually. I am totally for helping vets in need – I support several nonprofits that serve vets and I’m glad to do so. But some initiatives are just wacky. In Boston this year, the mayor had this crazy idea called Operation Thank a Vet, which involved volunteers knocking on veterans’ doors and “thanking them for their duty and sacrifice” while providing information on services and aid.
Our mayor grew up in Boston so he should be more familiar with the ways of your average New Englander. We loathe awkward chitchat with strangers who show up on our porch unannounced while the Patriots game is on. Just send me a Starbucks gift card via drone and stay off my property.
- Also, not all of us are male.
At first glance, this is a lovely picture of three brothers reconnecting at a WWII commemoration.
But look closely and you’ll see that whoever was in charge of entertainment made certain assumptions about the audience. I wonder if any WAVES from WWII showed up to be “honored” by scantily clad pin-ups belting out patriotic tunes? I’m sure the show would take them right back to the 1940’s, when they served their country just like men except without military status or benefits. Good times.
- Navy SEALS are not like vampires.
They may look un-naturally handsome and inexplicably strong, so Americans can be forgiven for thinking that “sending in special forces” means that everything is going to be okee dokey. We have all seen too many movies like Captain Phillips, Zero Dark Thirty, and Twilight, in which no situation is too impossible or too dangerous for the SEALS / vampires. The good guys always win.
SEALS may be some of the best-trained and best-prepared fighters we have, but I’m pretty sure they are mortal. And by the way, they count as “boots on the ground.”
- The best way to experience military life without living it is to read books by those who’ve been there.
This is my personal opinion as an avid reader. Some incredible literature has been inspired by military experiences. My highly-recommended favorites are:
- Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
- The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers
- Redeployment by Phil Klay
- The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
And if you really want to know what life on an aircraft carrier is like, pick up Geoff Dyer’s Another Great Day At Sea. He’s a journalist who spent time aboard the USS George H.W. Bush and wrote a very accurate account of his time aboard.
One last bit of advice to my civilian friends on this Veterans Day: if you know me, you are welcome to knock on my door. Bring me a Starbucks or, if it’s after 5:00 pm, something stronger. You are welcome for my service.