As a veteran reflecting on Veterans Day 2014, I just want to say: “You’re welcome for my service.” Well, perhaps one thing more: It seems that the further we remove ourselves personally from the wars we fight, the more we heap superficial honors on the men and women we send to fight them. We applaud them as they double-time through airports. We invite them to the head of the line. We are forever thanking them for their service. We owe them that much, but we owe them and our country more.
Today, “only 5% of Americans have a direct tie to our military.” For a country built on the ideal of the citizen-soldier – who like Cincinnatus, after serving Rome, returned to his plough – that’s a disgrace, as are the wars we increasingly send them to fight.
The growing separation of our military from the rest of us, along with the increasing use of private armies like Blackwater to pursue off-the-books wars, is an alarming trend. It allows us to pay lip service to sacrifice without thinking much about what sacrifice means. It creates a military separated from the people it serves, forgetting James Madison’s admonition that “a standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty.” It equates honor and service with military duty only, which undervalues all who serve in different ways and overlooks the obligation we all owe to the greater community.
It is time for universal service for all Americans.