By Len Zheleznyak
Each November 11 is Veterans Day in the United States. Last year, 2018, it was also the 100th Anniversary of the end of World War I. Originally called Armistice Day, the national holiday now known as Veterans Day emerged from the ashes of that “War to End All Wars.”
At the time of WWI, the technology of war had advanced far beyond the technology of medicine. This led to butchery, death, and destruction on a scale so large, so unimaginable, so incomprehensible, many leaders of the world believed after such horror no sane society would risk waging war again.
War had become too cataclysmic to be repeated, or so many believed at that time. But human memory is short. The terror of World War I was quickly forgotten and eclipsed by World War II a mere two decades later and more military conflicts followed.
The “War to End All Wars” turned out to be not that at all, which is why it made sense to transform Armistice Day—which marked the conclusion of WWI—into Veterans Day, a day to honor all U.S. service men and women and the many military engagements in which they have served.
I turned 18 years old on December 30, 1990. In August of that year, the United States launched Operation Desert Shield, the first of many entanglements the U.S. military would have during my adult life.
- In 1993 our military forces fought in Somalia.
- In 1994 the U.S. invaded Haiti.
- From 1994-1995 the U.S. participated in NATO’s peacekeeping force in Bosnia, followed by the 1999 intervention in Kosovo.
Then, starting in 2001 and continuing through today, the U.S. has been in a constant state of war in both Iraq and Afghanistan while prosecuting the never ending “War on Terror.”
For most of my adult life, the United States has been at war. Republican administrations, Democrat administrations, it doesn’t matter. War seems to be perpetual. If the purpose of war is victory, it seems our politicians don’t know how to achieve it. If the purpose of war is peace, then it seems to contradict the intentions of our politicians.
That is not to suggest war has produced nothing for the United States. It has. Approximately 20 million veterans.
VISIBLE & INVISIBLE WOUNDS
I volunteer at a soup kitchen for the homeless and have spoken with combat veterans at length about their experiences. What they have seen, what they have lived through, is unimaginable to most of us.
They have physical wounds and they have psychological wounds. Some are terribly broken people. It is estimated that between 11-20% of combat veterans have PTSD, and many of them self-medicate with drugs, alcohol, or both. They are paying the price for the wars to which the political class commits our military.
Due to the nature of my profession, I spend much time in airports. I see the young men and women—most of whom are barely more than kids—with their manila envelopes headed to boot camp. They’re on their way to become the next generation of United States warriors.
My heart breaks for them because I know many of them will come back from their fighting experience as broken men and women facing their demons on the streets, abandoned or ignored by their fellow citizens they swore to protect.
TALKING OPENLY ABOUT WAR
It’s time we started talking seriously, openly, about why we seem to be at war without end. I believe it’s a conversation long overdue and there are some important questions that deserve answers:
When will we start thinking about our Veterans and their families on more occasions than just Veterans Day?
When will we consider that sending men and women to other parts of the world to commit government-sanctioned violence and then bringing them home and ignoring them is inviting violence into our own society?
When will we hold our politicians to account for the broken men and women they’ve helped create? What have we gained from these conflicts and is the price paid worth it? When can we stop endless war?
When will we learn the lessons from “The War to End All Wars?”
Len Zheleznyak is a business executive, immigrant from the former Soviet Union, husband, father of two empowered little girls, and a lover of all things in outdoor Colorado.