Veterans Day was set aside 98 years ago, originally as Armistice Day, to recognize the end of World War I. Since then, there have only been a couple of years in which U.S. military personnel have not been deployed in combat theaters — as tens of thousand are today — making the holiday as much about the present as the past. As for the future, there are hotspots throughout the world that portend new military actions and the creation of a new generation of veterans.
For better or worse, America’s military has been on nearly constant deployment throughout its history. There are approximately 22 million living veterans — about 9 percent of the nation’s adult population — whose service will be honored this year. World War I was fought as “the war to end all wars,” a projection of hope that history has remanded to the file of mislaid optimism. America may never see an era in which the nation’s soldiers are assigned only to peacetime duty, but citizens can hope that such a day will come.
In recent times, whenever America has gone to war, it has done so under a shroud of unsteady conviction that the intervention was in the nation’s best interest. Historians say World War II, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, is an exception. Since then, the nation has sent soldiers to combat theaters large and small, from Korea and Vietnam to Bosnia and Granada, Iraq and Afghanistan to Cuba and the Philippines. With rare exception, U.S. troops have fought well and honorably.
The nation’s distress over the Vietnam War may have translated into veteran services becoming a lesser political priority, which may have had significant impact on veterans' health. The mortality rate for ex-combatants in the 1980-1989 timeframe is double what it was for veterans in the period of 2000-2014. The suicide rate among veterans has dropped, as have rates of chronic illness, which are indicators of greater emphasis on veterans' benefits.
It’s important the country continues to place a high priority on veteran assistance. It’s important too, that the holiday is embraced as an opportunity for sincere reflection and gratitude. Last year, Congress passed an act calling on Americans to observe a two-minute period of silence every Veterans Day. The nation has recently been engaged in a debate over the propriety of athletes in the National Football League kneeling during the national anthem as a sign of protest against racial inequality. The NFL Players Association has agreed to formally observe two minutes of silence during this weekend’s games, which is welcome news in the context of concerns that the act of players kneeling was directly disrespectful to veterans.
Veterans have fought in wars in order to protect the rights and freedoms of Americans. Regardless of one’s feelings about the nation’s current state of affairs, it is unequivocally appropriate for all Americans to reflect upon the respect they owe to those who have donned the uniform of the armed services and who were willing to give the full measure of sacrifice.