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Thursday, November 11, 1999

A Proper Tribute to Veterans
Someone asked me why I didn't go to a company sponsored Veterans Day ceremony and was surprised at my response. I served eight years in the US Marine Corps and am immensely proud of what I did there, but I don't think there is anything I or my peers did that merited any special recognition. I was paid for my time monetarily and the government further compensated me by providing me with an exciting job. I asked no more than that and I deserve no special praise for what I did.
Veterans Day, or Armistice Day as it was originally called, was created to celebrate the end of the slaughter of millions of men, mostly Europeans in the last of the 19th Century-style wars. This war was an abomination from the first shots fired. From this rather dubious beginning we have made it a day to honor those who have worn military uniforms, whether the individuals are deserving of special recognition or not. Those who do not serve in combat, those who volunteered to serve in peace are not due any special recognition from the rest of the country. It cheapens and demeans the efforts and honor of those who did sacrifice or jeopardize their lives in times of conflict.

The first World War started from the arrogance of the Germans, thinking that modern weapons could be used to further their petty imperial, personal, egotistical goals. Then the French, militarily incompetent for 1000 years (with the exception of Napoleon) proved their pedigree by refusing to train their army in any defensive tactics whatsoever for fear that it would demoralize them. The obvious result is that when the German attacks were initially successful, the French went into headlong retreat and finally entrenched not far from Paris.

The French were also hamstrung by a military that not only had no defensive training but also was under the delusion that they were a special annointed group of people above laws, above questioning, above justice. The French army's general staff believed that they should send a Jewish artillery officer to Devil's island because he did nothing wrong, but to admit that they were wrong in accusing him of treason would be to question the integrity of the army, and thus its efficacity as defenders of the home land. This controversy split the nation like nothing seen until the OJ Simpson trial in our country eighty years later. The Dreyfus Affair, as it is called, highlighted the supreme importance, not only of keeping the military subservient to civilian control, but of ensuring that they do not get special treatment in any way.

It was this arrogance, this refusal to believe that they could do anything wrong, this demand for adulation as a special population that caused their complete failure as a military force.

The arrogance of the European generals was beyond comparison to anything we have witnessed since. Refusing to undestand the lethality of modern weapons they conducted massive attack after massive attack trying to break through the enemy trenches. After each spectacular failure they concluded that they only lacked more men, more artillery, more everything to enable them to succeed, not realizing that their entire concept of war was wrong. Millions died from their insane folly.

And then finally, even at the end of the war, their arrogant, misplaced sense of nobility and lust for spilling blood was not sated. The Germans made some brilliant withdrawals to stronger positions, but the Americans had finally entered the war and it was too late for their clarity. At long last they signed an armistice to end the war. But did the French generals end the war at once to stop the dying? No.

The French Generals decided to make a dramatic statement in how the war ended. After the peace was agreed to, they continued making attacks to "straighten the lines" and kill more of their own people. The pre-arranged time to end the war was chosen solely based on the dramatic effect of all elevens. That is, they ceased fire at eleven seconds past the eleventh minute, of the eleventh hour, on the elventh day, of the eleventh month of the year 1918. You just know that they were regretting the war didn't start and end seven years earlier so they could make it the year 1911.

This very sick idea of continuing to kill and attack until this magic time is how the bloodiest war ever fought was ended. Always remember Veterans Day as November 11. It's a magic day when the slaughter of millions finally subsided.

Now back to my original point, that most veterans are not deserving of special recognition. In an all-volunteer force, there is no sacrifice that is not agreed to by those serving and duly compensated. Believe me, our Marines would not be doing what they do if they didn't want to do it. I don't think they're doing anything bad, in fact it's rather good, but so is working for the forestry service or Price Waterhouse. I'm annoyed that they often demand recognition as people with a special status.

Veterans only deserve special recognition if they were in sustained and bloody combat. Zorching overhead in a jet safe from missiles, serving in peacetime, or working in a supply warehouse in Georgia -- these are not especially worthy of notice. It may not be safe, but it is not that traumatic either. Just ask those pilots flying in the Gulf or in Kosovo, they'll be glad to brag about how much fun they had.

Gosh, you're probably saying, that's very harsh. What is the harm in honoring them nonetheless?

The harm is in the attitude of a peacetime military that is tremendously powerful and under the misconception that they are a special people with a special right to special treatment. I don't think our military is out of control. Most of my friends are in the militay or were. They are first rate people. But they are just doing a job. A job that is fun, and a job with great career opportunities. In our all-volunteer military no one leaves a civilian career in limbo to defend the nation. All the generals and admirals currently serving have never even had civilian employment beyond high school summer jobs.

So, I don't ask for special honors. I got what I asked for. Those serving now do not deserve special treatment. I wouldn't trust a military that thought it did.

On this Veterans Day, remember those who fought in combat, who were drafted and were forcibly taken from their own families and ambitions and made to serve. They are deserving of our deepest admiration and thanks. I am, and I believe all Americans are, deeply indebted to their sacrifice.

But don't pay special honors to those who happened to have an exciting job with great career opportunities. It is not deserved, nor is it safe. Just ask those who failed to defend Captain Dreyfus, who spent twelve years on Devil's Island, how an arrogant military can be the greatest danger to peace a nation can have.