“I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation. War is hell.” William Tecumseh Sherman
Sherman is correct, war is indeed hell; and no amount of yellow ribbons, bumper stickers claiming unwavering support for our soldiers, or parade can mitigate that fact.
But according to the Washington Post, President Donald Trump wants a parade like the one he saw in Paris, while attending the Bastille Day procession. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stated that the president “asked the Department of Defense to explore a celebration at which all Americans can show their appreciation.”
In the post Vietnam era, war policy has become a linear sophomoric proposition, whereby any criticism of the policy consumes every aspect of the enterprise, including a critique of American soldiers.
There are roughly 16 million books in the Library of Congress. Yet, one would be hard pressed to locate the volume authored by Congress in the aftermath of Vietnam entitled, “Lesson Learned.”
Based on America’s post Vietnam behavior the only takeaways have been to prohibit the press from taking photos or filming the fallen soldiers who return by way of Dover Air Force Base, and to conflate the mission with supporting the troops.
This latter distinction reflects the cowardly political application to hide behind the valor of soldiers to mute criticism.
Can anyone imagine former President Dwight Eisenhower calling for a military parade? Perhaps Ike’s intimacy with war naturally places him closer to Sherman’s thinking.
The president has created several narratives, leaving one to conclude any support for our armed forces is at best happenstance. With his self-serving characteristics well documented, there is little the president does that is not about him.
The legitimacy of his reason, notwithstanding, the president did not serve when others in his age range did so, including Senator John McCain, who spent more than five years as a prisoner of war at the “Hanoi Hilton.”
When contrition might have been the order of day, the president infamously said in 2015 of McCain, “He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”
Lest we forget, candidate Trump lashed out at the family of Capt. Humayun Khan, who died in Iraq serving in the U.S. Army. The utter disrespect for a Gold Star family is gobsmacking.
Such episodes make it difficult to believe the president’s desires for a military parade, reminiscent of Josef Stalin, goes beyond his unquenchable thirst for self-aggrandizement.
It’s one thing for the country to show its appreciation for our armed forces, which I believe the nation makes a laudable effort. But it’s another to demonstrate support. Here, America could use some tweaking.
America loses on average 20 veterans daily to suicide. According to the Military Suicide Research Consortium, mental-health rates have risen 65 percent in the military since 2000. Because of issues ranging from PTSD and depression to readjustment challenges and sleeping problems, veterans are twice as like as the civilian population of committing suicide, according to a 2013 Los Angeles Times report.
Over 57,000 veterans are homeless on any given night according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Unemployment is much higher among post-9/11 veterans than the general population, according to the Department of Labor. More than 1.4 million veterans are living below the poverty line according to a U.S. Senate report, and another 1.4 million are just above the line.
These tragic statistics are obviously not the president’s fault, but it ought to be his concern. A parade to exhibit America’s military might that everyone already knows exists reflects the empty calories of immediate gratification. Moreover, such festivities are beneath the dignity of the world’s lone super power.
In lieu of a parade, why not challenge every American and corporation that receive a tax refund this year, to contribute 10 percent to veteran causes? War may be hell, but too many veterans continue to realize it after their service is complete.
In the midst of our cheers and steadfast support, veterans continue to fall through the cracks. If the president could focus the nation’s attention on reducing the number of veterans that commit suicide, are homeless, or have simply given up, not only would it expand our definition of supporting American troops, it would truly be something worthy of celebration.
Rev. Byron Williams is one of the leading public theologians in the nation. He is a columnist, author, and adjunct professor at Wake Forest University. He is also host of the NPR-affiliated broadcast The Public Morality. He is the author of Strip Mall Patriotism, 1963: The Year of Hope and Hostility, and the forthcoming The Radical Declaration: An Enlightened Ideal Learn more >