John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Saluting the One Percent

Posted on November 11, 2011
Today is perhaps the most important day of the year to salute the one percent

bonus army

No, not all of those rich people that Occupy Wall Street gang hates so much.

I am talking about the one-percent of the country who have been fighting and killing and dying and losing their limbs so that America can fight terrorists in far off places.

Say what you will about the political decisions to go into Iraq and Afghanistan, but let’s all agree that the one-percent who serve in our the various armed services deserve a hearty round of applause.

But after the applause die out, they deserve something else.  A job and our continued support.

America has always had a tenuous relationship with its veterans.

More than one group of former combatees have had to march on Washington to get more than a firm handshake for their service.

From the very beginnings of our Republic, the government didn’t necessarily treat the folks who actually fought to protect very well.

As Wikipedia puts it:  “In 1781, most of the Continental Army was demobilized without pay. Two years later, hundreds of Pennsylvania war veterans marched on Philadelphia, then the capital, surrounded the State House where the U.S. Congress was in session, and demanded their pay. Congress fled to Princeton, New Jersey, and several weeks later, the U.S. Army expelled the war veterans from the national capital. In response to that experience, the federal district directly governed by the U.S. Congress,[1] Washington, D.C., was excluded from the restrictions of the Posse Comitatus Act which forbade the use of the U.S. military for domestic police activity.”

After almost every war since then, the government has struggled to figure out what to do with its veterans.  Perhaps the best example came with the Bonus Army of 1932.  At the height of the Depression, veterans started gathering in D.C. demanding that the government pay off its debts to World War I soldiers.

Once again, as Wikipedia puts it:  “Some 43,000 marchers—17,000 World War I veterans, their families, and affiliated groups—who gathered in Washington, D.C., in the spring and summer of 1932 to demand immediate cash-payment redemption of their service certificates. Its organizers called it the Bonus Expeditionary Force to echo the name of World War I's American Expeditionary Force, while the media called it the Bonus March. It was led by Walter W. Waters, a former Army sergeant.  On August 28.1932 President Hoover ordered General Douglas Macarthur to evict the Veterans. Macarthur ordered then Majors George Patton and Dwight Eisenhower to mobilize the Federal troops out of Fort Myers, Virginia.  At 4:00 that afternoon Major Patton ordered the Calvary to charge the unarmed veterans and their families. Killing and wounding many of the marchers as well as a few by standers, one of whom was a United States Senator. As the day progressed into night the Army attacked the Veterans main encampment with small arms, bayonets, machineguns and tanks. In all it is reported that some 1,600 people, mostly woman and children were killed in the daylong struggle. Nobody knows for sure the exact number as there were those who had escapped the city during the fighting and who died of their injuries while on the roads heading back to their homes.”

After World War II, policy makers started wising up.  It didn’t hurt that the economy was strong enough that the Federal government could offer veterans a better deal.

Known as the GI bill, hundreds of thousands of former soldiers flooded onto college campuses and in four years became college graduates.  And back then, a college degree meant something.

It was on the collective backs of the greatest generation, powered by best education system in the world, that America become the predominant force in the world.

Veterans from the Korean conflict got the same benefits as the World War II generation, but somewhere in the middle of the 1960’s, something happened to how our society treated our veterans.

Part of that was a function of mere numbers.  The Viet Nam conflict didn’t take as big a percentage of our young men as did the earlier conflicts.  And it became much easier for the wealthier Americans to avoid participation in the war completely.

Some stayed in college and used as many deferments as they could dream up.  Others paid off their local draft board.  Still others fled to Canada.  And the fact is, Viet Nam wasn’t as strategically important as the whole of Europe and the whole of Asia.  The conflict itself didn’t take as many people.  In 10 years, only 58,000 died, where that would be a good month during the 4 years of the Second World War.

Fewer participants meant fewer veterans arguing for fewer benefits.  And as America’s opinion of the war changed, so did its opinion of its fighters.  Instead of being glorified, they were condemned.  Instead of being greeted with flowers, they were greeted with jeers and rotten eggs.

There are plenty of Viet Nam veterans who have never recovered from their time there.  Many are homeless.  Many are addicted to drugs and alcohol.  It is no way to treat those who put their life on the line to defend the country.

Today, we have learned our lessons about how to treat our veterans.  It is commonplace to give them standing ovations at baseball stadiums and as they walk through airports.  There are plenty of private charities that have sprung up to help the wounded recover.

These are all positive developments and they show that America can learn from the past.

But this has to be a life-long commitment.  These veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan need jobs.  They need emotional support.  Their families need financial support.  And they need to be given the tools so they can move on beyond the conflict and reintegrate into peaceful society.

This is the job of the 99%.  To help the 1% who have taken on most of the load of protecting this country against terrorists (and done a pretty good job at it).

And on this unique Veterans Day, this 11 day of the 11 month of the 11th year in the 2nd millennium, we should remember that we all have role to play in taking care of the one percent.