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Veterans Day 2017

November 11th, 2017 Leave a comment Go to comments

This is the National Defense Service medal and ribbon. It is one of the four medals I received in 10 years in the Navy. I got it when I graduated from boot camp. Everybody got one. We called them “geedunk” medals. Geedunk is the Navy term for the candy you get from a candy machine, because it makes the sound “gee-dunk” when it falls. 

This medal is awarded to men and women who serve on active duty during times of war. It has been awarded during these times:  

  • June 27, 1950, to July 27, 1954 (for service during the Korean War). 
  • January 1, 1961, to August 14, 1974 (for service during the Vietnam War). 
  • August 2, 1990, to November 30, 1995 (for service during the Gulf War). 
  • September 11, 2001, to a date to be announced (for service during the War on Terrorism). 

When I was young and new in the military the idea that I was serving during a time of war didn’t seem like a big deal. Even though we had some tense encounters with the Russians I didn’t serve in a combat zone. But the reality is that one of those tense standoffs or some other stupidity might have put me in a combat zone at any time.  

It ought to give us pause to consider that the servicemember is charged to die for everyone. If someone dies in in the line of duty, they die for every American, not just the ones they like, or the ones like them. If a servicemember dies, they are dying for Democrats and Republicans, black people and white people, people of all faiths and none, gay and straight, liberal and conservative. There is no option for a servicemember to confine the meaning of their death to any single identity group. Serving in the military in a time of war is a supreme act of self-sacrificing love. It is a lot to lay on an eighteen-year-old but there it is. 

One of the best things about serving in the military is that once you do you no longer harbor any doubt you are an American. And that all the fine people you served with, of all backgrounds, are also American. Veterans enjoy the rights and privileges of being American because they have earned them and defended them for everyone else. 

Today the United States is tearing itself apart over identity. Who is, and who can be, an American? The inclusive ideals of the founding documents are in conflict with an ugly nativist exclusivity. Left and right are enraptured by an unforgiving partisanship. People find themselves likely to back positions and ideas they despise for the sake of party. Evangelical Christians support sexual predators and pedophiles to further their agenda. Leftists supposedly dedicated to peace support candidates who promote and even carry out acts of war. 

Both left and right claim the mantle of true patriotism. But the right wing wraps itself in the same kind of nationalism that led to secession in 1861; patriotism that would rather see the country destroyed than live up to its enlightened founding ideals. They buttress their fake patriotism with a false reverence for the military. Waving and saluting flags and uniforms they wear their supposed “respect” for the military to demonstrate their supposed heightened allegiance, even as many of them have never served and some even avoided serving when called.  

Accompanying this military fetishism is the assumption that all veterans support and appreciate their efforts. But they are mistaken. Many veterans find hateful nativist conservatism repulsive. Racism, white supremacy, and mindless devotion to bombastic ultra-right windbags spouting incredible (literally not credible) looney blather are contrary to the experience of servicemembers who learned to support and be supported by the men and women these jingoists choose to label unpatriotic and un-American. 

I started this post pointing to the National Defense Service Medal, mentioning that it seemed to the young Navy recruit who was awarded his in 1972 cheaply obtained. Yet it places me in the company of fellow veterans who have earned the right to be called American. I have earned the right to stand up for causes I believe in. I’ve earned the right to reject counterfeit flag-waving that seeks to limit who can be called American. And I’ve earned the right not to care what you think about it. 

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