MILITARY SERVICE-Symbolism Over Substance? By Ambassador mo
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Props or Substantive Commitment:
From video games to sports programming praise and verbal thanks, at least in the US, is heaped upon those who are in military service. Soldiers are bused to front stage at sports and cultural events, but without substantive support it sometimes appears that these service people are exploited as props rather than receiving what they truly need. Are we also glorifying war in similar manner of acclamation, perhaps as a recruiting tool, but then only to forget about the substantive obligation to those who are and have served?
Pawn Shop as Symbol of Vet’s Future?
The competing signs of “Pawn Shop” were the most prominent landmark and almost as abundant as American flags in military dominated towns that I drove through along the US eastern coast two years earlier on my way to Florida. Many military families are on food stamps. The pay is inadequate especially when it comes to young men and women facing contradictions. Patriotism may not be enough to keep marriages together, especially if spouses suffer through months of poverty and loneliness. Divorce, substance abuse and suicide are just some the scourges, along with danger. The host country population where US/NATO service people are deployed may also suffer the consequences along with US/NATO policy.
Forgotten Once Broken:
Returning veterans may face even more harsh realities once the adrenalin has worn off. Part of it is the difficult transition back to a more peaceful normalcy. However, much also is about the realization of what is lost – broken homes and lost youth. Worse is the lack of sufficient substantive help from employment, (almost 1/4 million Afghan & Iraqi vets are unemployed and US Senate only yesterday adopted bill to add tax credit incentives for employers to hire vets), to health care. Even the injured heroes have faced the tragedy of inadequate health care as they recover from body busting injuries – recall the Walter Reed Hospital scandal where badly injured vets and families faced rat infested cafeterias to inadequate medical services to lack of sensitivity.
The messages of appreciation and symbolism directed toward veterans and service people flow abundantly like a dam opened up a few times a year to relieve pressure. Similarly, during explicit and implicit efforts at recruitment. However, perhaps it is time for us to listen to the veterans and service people. What do they need to serve professionally for now, and how can society substantively reintegrate them as productive members once their service is complete?
Pacifism an Option?
Pacifism is a worthy objective. Unfortunately my experience with the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and beyond is that not all people are pacifists, but to the contrary will seek to exploit our reluctance to confront their aggressiveness. That is the example of Milosevic, Mladic, Rwanda genocide, Columbia drug militia, Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge and the catalog goes on. Today’s list is no less lacking, from the Lord’s Liberation Army to Al-Qaeda.
More Professionalism for Serving Country – Less Military Contract Corporations:
However, if the democratic world is transitioning toward voluntary militaries then should the service men and women and their families be treated also professionally? The proliferation of private military contractors, especially within the US, evidences that there is a need for professionalism and the will to pay for it.(Expenditures for weapon's programs and payments to military related industries dwarfs what the US Government pays military families). Why not though pay and treat accordingly those who stay in the service of their country rather than a corporation? Next time someone thanks those who have or are currently serving – cut through the verbose expressions of appreciation and ask them to put their wallet where their mouth is. Whether we support a particular war are or US military intervention, Americans who or have served on behalf of our country deserve more of our society’s substantive support than just gestures of appreciation. Glorifying war is very distinct from substantive commitments for those who have served on behalf of country. Pawn shop should not come to symbolize the future of military service on behalf of country and fellow citizens.
By Ambassador Muhamed Sacirbey
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