Here's a sampling of some great writing to mark Armistice Day (which, connoting peace the way it does, has been changed in the Land of Forever-War to Veterans' Day):
The sanctimony of phony politicians paying lip service to vets once or twice a year is pissing Harry Leslie Smith off. He explains why he'll stop wearing the traditional red poppy in remembrance of the fallen war dead: (h/t Pearl.)
However, I am afraid it will be the last time that I will bear witness to those soldiers, airmen and sailors who are no more, at my local cenotaph. From now on, I will lament their passing in private because my despair is for those who live in this present world. I will no longer allow my obligation as a veteran to remember those who died in the great wars to be co-opted by current or former politicians to justify our folly in Iraq, our morally dubious war on terror and our elimination of one's right to privacy.
Come 2014 when the government marks the beginning of the first world war with quotes from Rupert Brooke, Rudyard Kipling and other great jingoists from our past empire, I will declare myself a conscientious objector. We must remember that the historical past of this country is not like an episode of Downton Abbey where the rich are portrayed as thoughtful, benevolent masters to poor folk who need the guiding hand of the ruling classes to live a proper life.
Democracy Now exposes more of what we already knew: that the military-industrial complex treats veterans like crap. They're still committing suicide in record numbers and their mental health issues are going largely untreated.
At the Washington Post, a veteran named Chris Marvin writes about what Bill Moyers aptly calls an "awkward American tradition" -- thanking veterans for their service. He observes that people say it automatically when meeting a vet, and they utter the phrase because they don't know what else to say. Talking to veterans is a lot like talking to the newly bereaved -- it's a largely unused social skill in these United States, but one that Marvin says can be learned:
Post-9/11 veterans are asking to be engaged, empowered and held to high expectations. We yearn to be told by a grateful public that our talents are still needed here at home. This Veterans Day, on behalf of my fellow Afghanistan and Iraq veterans, I say to the country: There’s no need to thank us. You’re welcome for our service. But take a minute to talk with us. Ask us where we served, learn about what we did in the military and find out what’s next in our lives.
Reading that first piece about red poppies by Harry Smith made me think of one of my favorite songs of all time: Marieke by Belgian composer Jacques Brel. It's a song about lost love and the ghosts of war, and so, in light of Smith's essay, I think it's entirely appropriate for Veterans' Day. The first verse of the English translation goes like this: In Flanders field the poppies die/ Since you are gone. Here's the Judy Collins version in the original French and Dutch: