I want to be extra, crystal clear. Participating in the United States military is de facto an act of implicit racism and functions to strengthen the power of American oligarch hegemony. This is a bad thing. People do not go into the military intending to do this--and therefore it would be stupid and malicious to act like they are deliberately trying to destroy dark-skinned people. Yet we have to hold people accountable for what they actually do. And to the extent that the military-industrial complex is an evil system, we must hold to a certain kind of responsibility every person who participates in that system, whether unwittingly or not. I don't mean that we should say they're horrible people. I mean that they ought to bear witness to the emotions of the people they've unwittingly victimized. They ought to share the spotlight with the experiences of The Other, the people on the other side of the gun barrel. They ought to hear the rationale of the people who oppose the initiative they signed onto, as that initiative is not victimless.
There are people who feel mortally threatened by our culture of patriotism combined with the actual events caused by our military. Their terror is erased by Veterans Day, when it suddenly becomes respectable to join in the crusade against the Arabs. Imagine what Veterans Day is like for the immigrant Muslim woman, who hears even liberals compliment the personal characteristics of soldiers every day of the year, in total synchrony, without any acknowledgment of the fact that, without the actions of those individual human soldiers, our wars couldn't have done the damage they've done to her home country. The home country which is in turmoil, and to which she will likely be sent back because Americans are now blaming her people for the war that the US caused, armed, and fought. I can't imagine that feels any less toxic than any other woman who hears Brock Turner be lauded for his swimming potential, or perhaps as a better parallel, for his sexual prowess, his courage for taking charge, and his ambition in foregoing consent. Obviously Brock Turner didn't have good intentions - but to make an even more helpful analogy, just picture another scenario where somebody does something bad that they believe in their heart of hearts is good. Think about how you would respond to such a person, and let that intuition inform how you show your respect and compassion to veterans. Think of a scenario that isn't guided by intensely homogeneous cultural beliefs, so that you can avoid your bias and really get at your own intuition about what's right.
For instance, I'm picturing a guy who sneaks his girlfriend a drug that he thinks she will enjoy, even though she has previously told him that she did not want to try this drug. This guy may intend to improve the life of his girlfriend, but what he has done is wrong. It betrays trust, it delegitimizes her agency, and it might put her in danger that her boyfriend may not have known about. While it may be useful to acknowledge that this guy loves his girlfriend, but the actual impact, and her concerns, quickly take precedence over whatever good intentions he may have had. If the wrongdoer in whatever scenario you can come up with has qualities which are to be lauded, do you honestly think that they should erase the actual impact of their wrongdoing? Likewise, then, should the valor of soldiers excuse what they or their commanders do with that valor?
For the sake of the many voices silenced by patriotism, I am not going to stand in solidarity with our troops. Neither will I stand against them as human beings. Rather, my voice will be alongside those who our troops have, even if unintentionally, hurt in one way or another. I will put my own reputation on the line so that the message of the vulnerable can be heard, since I can say this in safety, but they cannot. I will mourn them for being predated upon, and I will mourn the way that good-intentioned people were used as tools in an unjust war that betrayed their desires. I will mourn the fact that they were pressured to make the choices they did by a culture which glorifies warfare and exonerates killers in the name of defending rights from foreigners--rights which our *own* government is poised to take away from the least powerful demographics.
I love the troops, I pity them, and I do not blame them for what they've done. But at the end of the day, I will always stand with the victims. Every single time. And victims are best honored and protected and prevented from being victims in the first place by a combination of holding their predators responsible for their actions and showing those predators love and compassion so that they can grow and repent by learning how to /truly/ make the world a better place. That, plus giving the floor to their experiences, rationale, and words.
If a person has done something bad, whether or not they believed it was bad, we must first and foremost prioritize the considerations of the victims above the reputation and feelings of the perpetrator. If you do believe that the US sends soldiers into unjust wars, and that it is possible for a citizen to know this by simply hearing and acknowledging the value in the narratives of the military's victims, then you must take the same approach that you do to other people who do harm. In my case, that is to compassionately try to heal the perpetrator while giving precedence to the concerns and narrative of the victims. Whether this means standing against a rape joke because of the attitudes it instills which ultimately lead to somebody different committing rape, or whether this means standing against glorification of soldiers because of the attitudes it instills which ultimately lead to enough people enlisting that the US army is strong enough to cause havoc to the lives of innocents in a foreign country.
So let's remember that the original purpose of Veteran's Day was to celebrate the END of war--hence its original name, Armistice Day. Today, I will pay homage to the peace that comes when we choose not to assist the military-industrial complex by adding to its ranks, and when we stand with those who will inevitably be targeted and lied to, by forcing an inclusive narrative to supplant the whitewashed one of "soldiers are defending our rights". The best way to defend our rights is to stand against those forces at home that seek to swindle consent from disenfranchised and desperate voters, and to acknowledge that no part of the government, especially the military, aims to serve us. It merely offers us pittance to keep us obedient.
Let us end this conservative tradition of ignoring the big picture of what most living soldiers are a part of. I offer my condolences to those victimized, including both the people who feel unsafe to speak out against the culture of Veteran's Day, and the people who for honorable and legitimate reasons felt pressured, obligated, or motivated to enlist but also love the innocent citizens of the countries to which they may be deployed. I love our veterans, I love the people who our veterans hurt intentionally or unintentionally, and I love everybody who has a veteran close to them. And to me, the only way to reconcile all of that love is to demand a change to how our culture perceives the status of being a veteran.