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we should honour veterans with more than just words

November 11, 2012

Veterans Day, a day to honour the men and women who have placed their lives in danger for the sake of others. For my own part, I respect those who join the military and place their lives in danger for the sake of others despite my own philosophical disagreements with war and the reasons we fight them; and I respect the hellish things that many of them are forced to endure in the course of their service, as well as the sacrifice of those who lose their lives while serving.

But for me, today isn’t just about honouring their service; it’s also about remembering the toll that war takes on its survivors and the heavy burdens than many veterans bear from their time spent in war, physical and mental scars that take lifetimes to heal, if at all. Whether they fight for things like freedom and justice, or simply find themselves in harm’s way while trying to make a better life for themselves and their families, they are as much victims as they are heroes—victims of a political-economic system in which the ruling class declares the wars that the working class and poor must fight. As Eugene Debs famously said in his 1918 Canton, Ohio, speech:

They have always taught and trained you to believe it to be your patriotic duty to go to war and to have yourselves slaughtered at their command. But in all the history of the world you, the people, have never had a voice in declaring war, and strange as it certainly appears, no war by any nation in any age has ever been declared by the people. And here let me emphasize the fact—and it cannot be repeated too often—that the working class who fight all the battles, the working class who make the supreme sacrifices, the working class who freely shed their blood and furnish the corpses, have never yet had a voice in either declaring war or making peace. It is the ruling class that invariably does both. They alone declare war and they alone make peace.

War is hell, and many of those who come out on the other side of it are changed forever. As human beings caught in the tangled web of geopolitics and the machinations of plutocrats who treat human lives more like commodities in their lust for wealth and power than people, I think our veterans deserve to be honoured and cared for just as much as any other victims of war, not forgotten and left to shoulder their physical and psychological burdens alone as they often are, cast aside by the ruling class like broken playthings discarded by a spoiled and thankless child.

How should we honour our veterans, then? With flag-waving and solemn words by politicians one day a year? With parades and empty promises? No. By making sure that veterans receive the emotional support and medical care they need is how we should honour them. By helping homeless veterans get off the streets and into safe, warm homes is how we should honour them. And most of all, we should honour them as WWII veteran and political activist Howard Zinn suggested, by renouncing war and vowing “No more war victims on the other side; no more war veterans on our side.”

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