Some 30,000 post-9/11 service members and veterans have been desperate enough to take their own lives. A real day for veterans would provide mental and physical support services that would seek to reduce or eliminate these self-inflicted casualties.
There are 40,000 homeless veterans in this country. A real day for veterans would address their physical and emotional needs and help them access permanent housing.
One of every 10 post 9/11 veterans has been diagnosed with a substance abuse problem. A real day for veterans would help them get treatment without stigmatization or shame.
Fifteen percent of post 9/11 veterans suffer from PTSD. A real day for veterans would provide them with the mental health services they need to cope with the soul damaging trauma they experienced.
Of course, the only real solution is to prevent this terrible toll on our veterans by keeping our young men and women out of harm’s way and shielding them from the tragedies that befall them as a result of the physical and emotional trauma of war. This is the best way to protect and support the rest of us as well. The fact is that the REAL threats to our safety and security cannot be addressed by military actions.
First, the COVID pandemic has taken the lives of 750,000 U.S. citizens over the last 2 years. We need to work to get through this pandemic and then take the lessons learned to prepare for future pandemics. This will take time, energy, and resources.
Second, climate change is dramatically impacting U.S. citizens and people around the world. We are now seeing firsthand the flooding, wildfires, storms, heatwaves, droughts, accelerated species extinction, and the first climate refugees. Experts predict that all of these phenomena will continue to grow in frequency and magnitude.
Third, the threat of nuclear annihilation has been dangling over our heads like a sword of Damocles for 60 years. There have been close calls and near misses over the decades, but we continue to allow our leaders to play nuclear chicken, jeopardizing civilization and all life on the planet.
All of these threats are GLOBAL THREATS, threatening all people of all nations and can only be solved with a global response. It won’t matter who has supremacy in the world if it is in ashes. Currently, we are fighting over deck chairs on the Titanic while the ship is going down. It is foolish, destructive, and suicidal.
A new approach is required. The old Cold War ways no longer serve us. We need a new paradigm that replaces relentless competition in the name of myopic economic national interests with global humanitarian concerns. It is in the interest of all people and all nations to deal with these global threats. War and conflict increase fear, hatred, and suspicion of one another. We need to break down existing barriers between nations and start working together on the things that can harm us and undermine our safety and security.
Currently, the U.S. Congress has been debating (with a corresponding public debate) the merits of two large legislative packages now totaling around $3 trillion of spending over 10 years. The debate has been raging for months. Yet, at the same time, Congress is pushing through what amounts to a $10 trillion plan for the Pentagon over the same time period with relatively little discussion in Washington D.C. and even less public discussion. We need to realize that the military cannot solve our current set of problems. Ending the death, suffering, and destruction caused by arms races and war is the first step toward building the trust required for international cooperation and collaboration. The only reason engagement, diplomacy, treaties, and relentlessly striving for lasting peace has not worked is because it hasn’t yet been tried.
Eliminating war and militarism would allow us to focus on reducing or preventing the harm caused by the existential threats. We would reap additional benefits as well. Reduced fear and suspicion of “other,” reduced stress, anxiety, and worry, a cleaner environment, an improved democracy, greater liberty, and less human suffering. We could improve education, clean up our water, reduce violence in our society, improve our infrastructure, provide better housing, and create a sustainable economy that we can be proud to bequeath to our grandkids. We can help our current soldiers and veterans in the process. In other words, we can work toward building a better world rather than destroying other nations and our own through endless war.
A rational nation would see the history of overwhelming military failures over the last 70 years and conclude that war does not solve our issues; in fact it exacerbates them. A rational nation looking forward would not choose ever increasing militarism and never-ending war when pandemics, climate change, and the threat of nuclear war endangers all of humanity.
So on this Veterans Day, put out your flag, go see a parade, donate to your favorite veteran organization, but realize this is not enough. What our service members and veterans need is assurance that we never send them to war again unless we have absolutely no alternative. The fact is there are always better alternatives to war. This is especially true today because in addition to war’s inherent destructiveness, it also distracts us from dealing with the real things that jeopardize our safety and security. So the single greatest gift we can bestow on our veterans and service members is to work creatively and non-violently to end war. This also happens to be the greatest gift we can give to all of humanity.
Chapter Coordinator for World Beyond War and a new grandfather