Reflection on Veterans Day

Well, another Veterans Day has come and gone and was partially ignored by the general public.

This excludes, of course, the men and women who continue to serve their country through membership in the Veterans of Foreign Wars or the American Legion. You might wonder how we could conclude that membership in those organizations equates to service of country, but we think it should be obvious.

When these men and women, wearing the uniforms of the service branches with which they had actively served, don them to participate in ceremonies on Veterans Day or Memorial Day or, in Milford, Labor Day, or July 4 in Amherst, they serve as a reminder of the importance and value of service.

Really, if we did not see these men and women in uniform on these few days, how would we be reminded that our armed forces still require our help? Through Army Strong television commercials?

The truth is, or at least seems to be, that few young men and women have any interest in serving their country and that, to some extent, is understandable. The most important thing in our lives is, simply put, our lives and it is difficult to look beyond our own needs to see the needs of a greater entity.

And the natural question we would ask ourselves, were we to think about service, is, “What’s in it for me?”

That sounds selfish, and to some extent is, but it’s also a reasonable question especially during a time when it is difficult to find jobs. Young people coming out of college face a great challenge, which explains why so many end up moving in with their parents.

Once upon a time, such employment difficulties would have pointed young men and women toward the service, but once upon a time, we had only recently been involved in major, and even popular, wars, particularly World War II. In the years following that great conflict, service was seen as something important, perhaps even noble.

And, of course, those who didn’t volunteer faced the prospect of being drafted, which explains why so many chose to join up in the Vietnam years, getting to choose their branch of service rather than being drafted into units with which they might not have wished to serve.

The draft protests of the 1960s are still almost fresh in the minds of many people but many of them, we think, now look upon the draft as something that was actually of some value. It gave the armed forces many competent people who would otherwise have chosen not to serve. Such is the case today: Many of our best and brightest eschew service for, they hope, a more lucrative career on the outside.

The problem with the draft in the 1960s was that it seemed to target the poorer segments of our society because kids in college got deferments. Dick Cheney certainly did. Multiple times.

The problem with no draft today is the services have trouble attracting young people with the skills needed for a successful Army or Navy. Why serve and be paid a relative pittance when you can use your skills in private industry and make much more? And it is still true that it is difficult to support a family on armed forces pay, which is appalling.

All we’re trying to say here is that days like Veterans Day have a meaning outside the laying of a few wreaths or a few volleys from a rifle squad and it would behoove us all to think about that, even on days when men and women who once served actively are not visible.