“Only the dead have seen the end of war”.
This last Monday was Memorial Day. For most Americans, this translates into an extra day of paid time off, an opportunity to barbecue or go to the beach. During the last decade or so, Memorial Day has turned into a sort of “Veterans Day light”, a second opportunity to thank military veterans for their time in uniform. While both are understandable, even laudable, reasons for enjoying the day off, neither attitude addresses the root purpose of the holiday.
Memorial Day began as an event known as “Decoration Day” following the War Between the States. Memorial Day represented one of the first grassroots efforts of Americans of all regions and races to come to terms with the costs and consequences of the war which took at least 750,000 American lives. The event gradually expanded to include memorials to all American war dead, as veterans of the Indian Wars and Naval expeditions joined the ranks of America’s fallen. America’s presence in two world wars, as well as perpetual military deployment following World War II has resulted in an almost constant increase in the number of American service members who had given their lives during armed conflict and stability operations.
During recent years, Americans have seemingly become numb to the costs and consequences of war. The mainstream media rarely mentions the 6,467 operational deaths resulting from the Global War on Terror. Less attention is given to the nearly 40,000 wounded of the conflict. In fairness to journalists, the federal government does not make it easy to find exactly how many service members have given life or limb during the Long War. For instance, there is no single database documenting all casualties in one central location. While it might be unfair to call the government’s behavior “fraud”, this apparent evasion suggests that Pentagon officials have little interest in presenting the human costs of armed conflict.
To make matters, even less attention is given to the long-term suffering of combat wounded and other disabled veterans. Bright, athletic men and women who can no longer walk, see, or live independently do not make for good television or news copy. Both presidential frontrunners are advocates for universal health care, nonetheless, neither has given more than superficial lip service to the plight of disabled veterans, beyond their capitalizing on a few photo opportunities while on the campaign trail. Similarly, while bipartisan dialogue focuses on the need to curtail the costs associated with the federal government and rising health care costs, no attention is given to the one measure that can reduce the cost of veterans’ health care. Specifically, that veteran’s care is one of the primary unfunded liabilities associated with armed conflict, and that ending the decade long war is the only method for controlling the VA’s expanding costs. Stated differently, few politicians are willing to address the one means of reducing the Veterans Administration’s cost, which is ending the current
The obligations of our representatives in Washington are to protect our liberty, not coddle the world, precipitating no-win wars, while bringing bankruptcy and economic turmoil to our people.
The American libertarian movement has rapidly expanded during the past decade. Much attention has been given to Congressman Ron Paul’s role as an educator and advocate for the ideas of self-ownership, the non-aggression principle, as well as his advocacy for a “humble foreign policy”. Multiple news sources have documented the large amount of donations from active duty personnel to the Paul campaign. Similarly, the growth of grassroots veterans groups such as Veterans for Ron Paul 2012, Combat Veterans for Ron Paul, and Oath Keepers is proof that at least some veterans and active duty military understand the philosophy of liberty.
While the media has addressed the rising support for liberty among veterans, few commentators explore why this is the case. Perhaps the fact that veterans, as well as active duty and their families, have participated in coercive central planning in health care and living conditions makes them more receptive to the efficiencies of the free market. Perhaps the years of constitutional theory classes given to basic trainees and officer candidates makes veterans more curious about the principles of the free society that they take an oath to defend. Or maybe it is the of quoted statement by veterans that, ‘things work in spite of the commander’s plans, not because of his plans’, that makes old Soldiers receptive to Hayek’s concept of spontaneous order. For this author, Congressman Paul’s assertion that “we just marched in, so we can just come home”, seemed to be the most fitting description of the author’s experience as an embedded advisor to the recreated Iraqi Army. Regardless, the liberty movement seems to be the one ethical, social, and political movement that is genuinely concerned about the welfare of American service members. While many candidates discus the need to ‘support the troops’ in conjunction with a demand to bomb Iran, Syria, or some other country that most Americans cannot find on a globe, the Ron Paul campaign, libertarian organizations, and anarcho-capitalists seem to be the only advocates for protecting service members from the consequences of perpetual war.
Note this author is a nine year veteran of the United States Army. The author is a veteran of the ironically named “Operation Iraqi Freedom”, and is a recipient of multiple peacetime and combat decorations. He was discharged in 2010. This admission is not meant to justify the author’s credentials as an expert on defense or veterans issues. This admission is meant to give the reader context. In keeping with the journalistic tradition of Charley Reese, the author believes that responsible writers document their conflicts of interests, allowing readers to apply a rational critique of the author’s perspective. Because every individual is inherently biased in some manner, it is important that writers take the necessary precautions to make their biases transparent.