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November 11, 2013

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This was the big Remembrance Day story in the UK:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-24889924
Hundreds of people from across the UK have attended the funeral in Lancashire of a World War Two veteran they never knew.

Harold Jellicoe Percival, who was known as Coe, served as ground crew on the famous Dambusters raids carried out in May 1943 by 617 Squadron.

Mr Percival, who died last month aged 99, never married or had children.

The funeral home organising the service put an advert in a newspaper appealing for people to attend.

Simultaneously heartwarming, and rather sad.
A reminder to talk to the lonely old guy in your neighbourhood.

I can't say "Thank you for your service" in response to stories like these, as though veterans are waiters.

Yes, that's always felt awkward to me, too.

I had lunch with a good friend of mine who is a Vietnam vet, and he recounted to me some of his latest encounters with the local VA hospital. Basically, the VA here seems to be comprised of physicians and bureaucrats who are so inept that the other local hospitals wouldn't have them, so Lewis has to constantly badger them to frigging take care of him as if he were a real person.

This hasn't changed in any way that I can tell since Erik Shinseki took over. I think it's possible that this ship is too big to change direction with any speed. In a just and reasonable world, he'd be able to clean house. It's not really clear that he's doing (or can do) any such thing.

The rest of lunch was spent catching up on what's going on in my world, with a dash of his struggles to egest some of his experiences in Vietnam into document form. He's decided he doesn't have a conventional book so much as he has a stream of anecdotes, although anecdote seems awfully impersonal when you consider the subject matter.

Like when he (as he frequently did) visited with the gravely wounded soldiers who were being sent out of country for care. One guy had lost a leg and had various shrapnel wounds to the body. Some of the fragments had not yet been removed, and there were more surgeries to be done. On inquiring as to the guy's outcome after he'd shipped out, fully intending to send him the letter he'd dictated so that he could post it himself, my friend learned that the man in question had died. My friend posted the letter to the man's wife, along with some recounting of his conversation with him. For a variety of reasons, this kind of thing kept happening to my friend.

There are other stories. Some of them might appear here, in his words, if he's willing. I keep encouraging him, not so much because it will be good for him to let these stories out as because these stories are a recounting of some of the human cost of war that everyone, of every political stripe, should be aware of.

I am grateful that such people exist. Thanking him for his service just seems to elide a great deal of just what that service entailed, not to mention the enormous changes in his life that followed.

What is this WW1 you keep talking about? ;-)
Seriously, since WW2 any WW1 tradition* has gone extinct over here. Good riddance, if you ask me, considering what the character of those traditions was: Glorifying the 'sacrifice' of the 'German Youth' and preparing the new generation for the rematch (with strong hints of killing the Jews beforehand). Like GOPsters losing an election seeking a scapegoat and concluding that the problem was that they had not been not radical enough.
In hindsight Armistice was the worst thing that could have happened instead of a '45 without the Russians' in 1919.

*and most knowledge of it too. The avarage German these days cannot even say who was on which side in WW1

Slart, I can't add to your post, but I agree with is 100%.

"although anecdote seems awfully impersonal when you consider the subject matter."

When my grandfather was alive, he sometimes would talk about his experiences at war. What I didn't realize when I was young and only struck me later, was he would talk about events abstractly. About being in this battle or that. It eventually hit me what he must have actually lived through to say, "it reminds me of this beach." He never talked about it in anything other than abstract terms. I can't imagine what he actually lived through, and I wouldn't wish it on anybody.

"...because these stories are a recounting of some of the human cost of war that everyone, of every political stripe, should be aware of."

This. 100 times this. Politically, I think its far too easy to go to war. Especially with an all volunteer military, the cost of war is borne by an increasingly small number of families. It's too often abstracted in public discourse. Everybody says support our troops (and they should), but sometimes it seems like that just turns into a public excuse for supporting war.

Even in asymmetrically engagements like Libya where risks to american troops are minimal...we're still asking our soldiers to do terrible things, and it shouldn't be so easy to cast aside the human cost of any military action.

Politically, I think its far too easy to go to war. Especially with an all volunteer military, the cost of war is borne by an increasingly small number of families.

About 315 million people in the US, a little less than 1.5 million active military.

It's true that the percentage of people in the military is lower than say, in WWII, but so is the percentage of casualties of war.

For example "Less than 0.5 percent of the population serves in the armed forces, compared with more than 12 percent during World War II."

But .4% of the U.S. population died in WWII. .002% died in Afghanistan and Iraq.

That isn't to diminish the sacrifice, or the isolation of the few who now bear the burden.

I meant to provide a link.

This. 100 times this. Politically, I think its far too easy to go to war. Especially with an all volunteer military, the cost of war is borne by an increasingly small number of families. It's too often abstracted in public discourse. Everybody says support our troops (and they should), but sometimes it seems like that just turns into a public excuse for supporting war.

In terms of discipline, professionalism, and casualties, the post-Vietnam all-volunteer-AD-plus-reserves structure is definitely a good thing. But as you say, it truly compartmentalized and abstracted the impact of engaging in war. There were 22 million veterans in the US in 2012, but their distribution is very disproportionate in terms of a number of demographic measures.

About 315 million people in the US, a little less than 1.5 million active military.

...and a bit less than one million more in the Reserves. As the last decade has shown, that last 850k is important to remember, as the current structure gives them a reasonable chance to be called up in the event of any large-scale conflict... and they'll be more poorly-trained and equipped should they see action...

I wonder how the ACA will impact military enlistment. I recall reading a while back an article about the number of people who enlist in order to get medical and especially dental care.

"But .4% of the U.S. population died in WWII. .002% died in Afghanistan and Iraq."

It's also important to remember the wounded, many of them severely...I think another 50,000 or so in A&I, although I can't find numbers at the moment.

And I'm certainly not wishing for larger engagements, drafts, and more casualties.

It's just striking, and sad, that we are currently at war. We've been at war. And most people seem not to notice. It's filtered into the background noise of our culture and politics.

Thompson, this is very true. I was in the south of Afghanistan last year, and my battalion saw around ten times as many WIAs - to include around twice as many serious injuries (with the standard definition being limb or eyesight) - as it did KIAs. There are a number of reasons for this, but the big ones are how much experience we've had over the last ten years of COIN ops, and how much we're sinking into defensive technologies. As the budget shrinks, and time (and conversion to a garrison force) dulls those two edges, we can expect to see a higher KIA rate if we find ourselves mired in another protracted "overseas contingency operation", asymmetric or not.

It's just striking, and sad, that we are currently at war. We've been at war.

For 12 years.

Russell, thanks for consistently adding numbers for me.

NomVide:

I agree and can't add to what you said, except to note the absurdity of "overseas contingency operations" that involve 100,000 or so soldiers in theater. It's language that abstracts the human cost.

I have really mixed feelings about Veteran's Day.

Part of me responds with anger at all the lives lost in unnecessary wars all the heartache and injuries and sorrow. I don't like thanking people for participating in that because it seems like a set up to sucker even more people to participate in the unnecessary war of the future. And there will be some, of course. Accompanied by a lot of flag waving and cheering and crap abut supporting the troops by supporting the war.

On the other hand, just because some other people are jingoistic on veterans' Day, doesn't mean I have to react to the jingoism. I can react my own way and feel grateful to the people who defended us when we really needed it. And feel sad for the people who fought in some politicians' war because they enlisted with good intentions and got used for bad ones.

I have mixed feelings bout thinking service people for their service, too. I don't go around thanking cops and teachers and nurses and park rangers and everyone else who has a job that helps all of us and has some real degree of danger and extraordinary stress. I don't like to make a fetish of military service. That , too , seems like asset up, a way of getting someone to sign up just to be sent off on some stupid politician's ego game. I'd rather give every eighteen year old a copy of All Quiet on the Western Front.

But I again I don't want to be negative on the day that remembers people like my dad or my uncle or my great uncle. Or yur dad or your mom or whoever else it is that you all are thinking of.

On the other hand, just because some other people are jingoistic on veterans' Day, doesn't mean I have to react to the jingoism

My preference is not to react with either jingoism or anti-jingoism, because neither seems appropriate. But others have a different sense of propriety. But that is a battle for another day, according to mine.

One doesn't have to look far, historically, for examples of countries constantly "at war" overseas with a (relatively) small volunteer army: Imperial Rome, Imperial China, and Imperial (esp. 19th-century) Britain come readily to mind. Kipling is the great versifier of the last of these, and poems such as Tommy (= "Tommy Atkins," the quintessential British soldier) alerted me early on to the disjuncture between an uninterested (NOT "disinterested") citizenry at home and a volunteer army overseas. Nowadays we do a much better job of "supporting the troops" symbolically and rhetorically . . . just not in basics like pay, services, and keeping them safe from unnecessary wars.

Tommy Atkins would have appreciated the irony of "Veterans Day."

It's also important to remember the wounded, many of them severely...I think another 50,000 or so in A&I, although I can't find numbers at the moment...

Some estimates are as high as a million:
ttp://www.ibtimes.com/va-stops-releasing-data-injured-vets-total-reaches-grim-milestone-exclusive-1449584

"At least 900,000 veterans rely on SNAP. The House Republican version of the farm bill, the five-year piece of legislation that funds nutrition and agriculture provisions, would slash funding for the food stamps program by nearly $40 billion and boot 2.8 million people off the program next year. That includes 170,000 veterans, who would be removed through a provision in the bill that would eliminate food stamps eligibility for non-elderly jobless adults who can’t find work or an opening in a job training program."

Yes, that's always felt awkward to me, too.

And to me, as well. I've been trying to figure out what it is, exactly, that seems off.

What I think is that thanking servicepeople publicly when we see them in uniform, or constantly referring to them as 'heroes', or 'warriors', ends up separating them from the rest of us.

It's like they are some special caste of human, especially heroic or self-sacrificing, or endowed with special prowess.

Much of what servicepeople do *is* heroic, and self-sacrificing, and strong and effective in a military application-of-force sense. Likewise cops, firemen, teachers, nurses, doctors etc.

A lot of it is also drudge work, just the incessant putting of one foot in front of the other toward some goal. And that's also essential, even if not 'heroic' in any dramatic sense.

I have no wish to denigrate any of that.

But I think there's a kind of shifting of responsibility in there also.

We ask extraordinary things of people - demand, actually - and say thank you, which is great. But I do not see us, as a society, taking on any real part of the burden of what we are demanding these folks to do.

And that includes the policies and decisions that require them to be in harm's way in the first place.

Total active and reserve military in the US is at most 1% of the population. They and their families bear the brunt of choices that we make. All of us.

The rest of us are not asked to sacrifice anything, at least nowadays. For the vast majority of us, warfare does not touch us at all, in any way. Let alone active service, we don't even raise taxes to pay for our wars anymore.

The 'thank you' thing, and the 'support our troops' ribbons, and the blizzard of TV spots with inspirational images of 'our heroes', all seem very thin and sentimental to me. It has, to borrow a phrase, the flavor of 'misty-eyed flag waving'. To me.

This is just my opinion, I intend no judgement toward anyone who finds meaning in any of that stuff.

What I think we have arrived at is a point where war-making is a fairly cheap option. We're very rich, and lots of other people will lend us money, so it doesn't cost us much in any way that we feel in our wallet on a day-to-day basis. We have the best gear in the world, and an *extremely* competent and professional military, so we generally win.

And for the vast majority of us, wars are just something on the TV.

So, war-making becomes some combination of foreign policy option and spectator sport.

The flip side of isolating the burden of war-making to a very small proportion of the population is that *those* folks can begin to see themselves as a special caste. Very briefly, there is no good thing that will come of that.

Mostly when I see service people in uniform, what I want to say is not "thank you", but "I'm sorry".

I'm sorry we ask so much of you, I'm sorry so few of us take up any the responsibility for what's been demanded of you, I'm sorry we send you half way around the world to spend months in a daily hell.

These people are in general not especially heroic, they're not some weird caste of warriors. They're just people like the rest of us. It's good that we at least thank them, publicly, for their hard work and sacrifice, but IMO we owe them much much much more than that.

We owe *ourselves* much more than that.

Hopefully some of this makes sense, I'm just trying to sort it out myself, and have been for the last 10 years.

as always : what russell said.

yeah, second cleek.

I've been trying to scratch a comment like that together, but I could never get it right. Spot on, Russell. It makes a lot of sense.

A local movie theater had (possibly still does) a policy of if you enlist or your reserve unit is called up, your job is waiting for you when you get back. On one hand, I think that's great and I don't want to criticize the theater. On the other hand, what does it say about our society when a *job at a movie theater* is what we offer our vets. If they get a job at all

I do want to say, though, and you touched on this, it's not just economically cheap. It's politically cheap. After 12 years of war and casualties, we could still bomb Libya without congressional action and it wasn't really a political football. And this isn't a dig at Obama, just shocking to me that it was politically feasible (or possibly politically necessary) to send our military to Libya without congressional support.

...but their distribution is very disproportionate in terms of a number of demographic measures.

I don't come from money, and I'm the first male in my family to go to college, and not into the military. So I see the set-up in the glorification of military service that Laura discussed earlier. It's nothing against the people who serve. It's against the mythos that facilitates what I see as, to some degree, exploitation.

It's an old story. For whatever reason, my mind always goes back to poor southerners fighting and dying in the Civil War so wealthy plantation owners wouldn't have to pay them (or anyone else) to tend the fields.

I'm not saying that everyone who goes into the military is being duped, but I would say that military fetishism contributes to some number of people's decisions to do so - many of whom aren't old enough to drink legally and got their driver's licenses just a year or two before signing up.

They're just people like the rest of us.

Yes. And some of them are among the best people you'll ever meet, while some of them are complete a$$holes, just like the rest of us.

NomVide:
Another part of the reason that WIAs are so high while KIAs have dropped is that we have gotten lots better at saving lives. A lot of guys who would have died of their wounds just a couple of decades ago now live.

Seriously wounded. Possibly permanently disabled. But alive. A mixed blessing, perhaps. But a blessing nonetheless.

Awesome comment, russell.

For me, the main thing to remember is that people in the service are not some narrow sampling of us; they're widely varied. They don't have one single, common motivating factor for being in the military. They're not uniformly noble, or uniformly psychopathic, or uniformly anything, except for that they're in uniform.

So thanking one soldier as if s/he's somehow a representative of all soldiers is I think a bit presumptive, and overly convenient. It's a placeholder for putting in some listening time. That's the real trick right there. I've known my friend for nearly three decades, and he's just now opening up to me a bit in terms of his experiences. He's told me a few disconnected stories before, but he's never really talked much on how and why each of these things affected him. I'm fortunate to be considered a friend of his. He says he doesn't have many.

Other things about him: he quit a well-paid position as an executive assistant to move back here and take care of his aging father. He does random acts of kindness; sometimes quite substantial in scope, and mostly anonymously. He sits and watches people, waiting for the nobility he knows is in there to come out and play.

And every year on Veteran's Day he does something meaningful to him and to him alone to commemorate the tens of thousands of people who lost their lives and the many more who were wounded in Vietnam. That's one of the secrets he didn't tell me for at least a quarter century.

When someone tries to thank him for his service he tells them to write their congressman and tell them to do better by veterans, if they're truly grateful.

Another part of the reason that WIAs are so high while KIAs have dropped is that we have gotten lots better at saving lives. A lot of guys who would have died of their wounds just a couple of decades ago now live.

I was (confusingly) mentally lumping that under "defensive technologies", but you're absolutely right to single it out. The continuous push to improve medical support at every level has made a huge difference. The Army teaches basic first-responder care to every Soldier in BCT these days, and try to see everyone get a full 40h training course (with semiannual refreshers) before deploying. And the in-theater care is amazing, given what they're dealing with. We'd typically see severely injured WIAs on the operating table in the main hospital for the region in less than 45m after a casualty - often in closer to 30m, despite being at the periphery of the region. We saw a lot of Soldiers who'd've died three to five years ago pull through, albeit often with permanently disabling injuries, but still - when you can e.g., see someone loose three limbs to an IED and survive, it's a bit awe-inspiring. The advancements made in medical techniques, protocols, and technologies over the last decade of war have been continuous and amazing.

The advancements made in medical techniques, protocols, and technologies over the last decade of war have been continuous and amazing.

And that will benefit countless people who are not at war - victims of assault, automobile accidents, industrial accidents, or just about any other source of grave injury you can come up with.

Everything's a mixed bag, ain't it?

http://www.thepuppyrescuemission.org/

That's one way to support the troops. Also Baghdad Pups (ASPCA)and Nowzad..

I'll vaguely echo Laura, russell, and Slarti all said so very well. My own feelings share something with each of those sentiments, but is mostly a confused muddle on this point. I'm not quite six months off Active Duty, and the easiest way to make me awkward and uncomfortable remains thanking me for my service. The last time someone did it, I responded by thanking them for paying me my salary while I served, which did at least have the effect of sharing the awkwardness amongst all parties involved. The biggest problem I have with thanking servicemembers is that it long ago became a platitude. The words are formulaic - almost ritualistic - so it's often impossible to know what significance - if any - the speaker attaches to them. I've had people thank me because they wanted to evoke solidarity as a veteran who directly appreciates what can be demanded by military service. I've had people thank me because they felt it was expected of them. And I've had people thank me because they wanted me to politely and publicly acknowledge what a good person they are for doing so. I'm really not comfortable with being thanked without knowing what the speaker means by it for reasons very closely tied to what Slarti (and russell, and hsh) said above. If the speaker doesn't know what I did, how does it make sense to thank me for doing it, unless we take the platitudinous sense of the phrase as being acceptable? Unless we assume that simply taking a particular job - which involves a possibility of serious hazard, but absolutely no certainty of it - is praiseworthy, thanking w/o context is meaningless, and the willingness of many citizens to do so will always trouble me.

They're just people like the rest of us.

Yes. And some of them are among the best people you'll ever meet, while some of them are complete a$$holes, just like the rest of us.

I know this doesn't really need repeated yet again in the current conversation, but in general it needs saying in this culture so much I'm going to just to pile on. The most vile, unsavory, despicable people I've every met were Soldiers - as were the most inspiring ones. Raising your right hand doesn't make you stop being a person, for better and worse.

My paternal grandfather, also named John Merritt Burt, was an infantry Lieutenant in the First World War. I have only vague memories of meeting him a few times when I was very small, but I have noticed little quirks of mine which I suspect come down from him, some from being raised by his son, some through DNA.
It was in part because of his legacy that I wrote my WWI novel, The Christmas Mutiny. Now Christmas of 2014, the centennial of the Christmas Truce, is coming up, and I think that event is very much worth commemorating.

Nothing to add--I just want to applaud the thread.

http://love.theanimalrescuesite.com/service-dogs-healing-vets

FWIW, I posted a comment about 24 hours ago that was caught in the spam trap until recently. {Thanks for rescuing it, Lib. Jap.} No big deal, except that in my experience comments that actually go up several hours after they were originally posted never get read, because who reads back over a thread a second or third time to see if anything new has appeared? And presumably if it's happened to me, it's happened to others. Just to let y'all know.

At a slight tangent, I'd like to compliment the splendid work being done by the US military in the aftermath of the Philippines typhoon.

Whatever reservations one might have regarding other deployments, their capacity to render emergency assistance on a large scale across the globe is unique.

Praiseworthy, certainly. "Unique" - perhaps not. My Filipino friends, always lavish in their gratitude, are also thanking the military of several other countries for their assistance in their hour of need.

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