Posted on November 11, 2009
At the 11th hour of 11th day of the 11 month in 1918, the Germans signed the peace treaty that ended the First World War. Woodrow Wilson proclaimed that every November 11th be known as Armistice Day to tribute to those who served in the Great War. Things being as they are, after the Second World War, Armistice Day became Veterans Day, as there were a lot more World War II veterans than World War I veterans.
During most of the 1970’s, Veterans Day was changed from the every November 11th to the fourth Monday in October, which didn’t make any sense, because, as we all know, the First World War didn’t end in October. It ended in November. But the 70’s were a lost decade for many reasons, and one of the things that Jimmy Carter got right is that he moved Veterans Day back to its original day of November 11th.
There are fewer veterans, as a percentage of the population, than at any time in our nation since the Great War. That is largely because the draft hasn’t been in effect since the mid-70’s, and while we have been engaged in two wars for more than eight years, fewer of our troops are fighting in them, as a percentage of the population.
I think we should bring back the draft. If we did bring back the draft, I guarantee you we would get into fewer wars. I also think that most Americans could learn a lot about how to live their lives if they went into the Army or Marines for a year or two. The military is one of the few institutions in our society that still has the respect of most Americans. It gets people in good physical shape, it makes them learn how to operate as a team, it is probably the most-color blind institution in America, and it teaches valuable habits like self-defense, discipline, survival and nutrition.
I say all of that as if I am a veteran, but, alas, I am not. My dad served in the Army in Korea, but I never served. I tried twice to get a Navy ROTC scholarship, but they took two looks at my engineering potential and they said, thanks, but no thanks. That was back in the early 1980’s. I could have used the scholarship money, but the Pentagon wasn’t going to give it to me, so I went on my merry way. I always had a slight tinge of regret for not serving, but back then, we hadn’t been involved in a hot war with a bunch of Muslim terrorists, so there wasn’t much compelling for me to join up.
If you take one look at Congress today, relatively few members of either branch served in the military. The World War II generation has pretty much all passed on, either retired or dead, and those who served in Viet Nam or other conflicts simply don’t make up the numbers of the old-timers.
I used to work for Bob Michel, who was wounded at the Battle of the Bulge. My sense of him and his colleagues was that they were adults. They saw the evils of war, and that gave them a much better perspective of how to handle peace and how to handle themselves in politics.
Both parties are trying hard to recruit veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. And there are a lot of good, qualified candidates who have seen war up close and personal in both conflicts. They don’t make up the numbers of the earlier generations of war veterans, say like the Civil War or Great War or World War II veterans did. But they will make their mark on elections next year. Of that, I am certain.
Perhaps one of our greatest Presidents was also one of our greatest Generals. Dwight D. Eisenhower will never go down in history as one of the most articulate or most revolutionary Presidents, but his adult leadership helped guide America through a dangerous era in our history. He was a real adult.
We could use that kind of adult leadership today.
To all of our nation’s veterans, all I can say is this: Thank you.