Bob Schwartz

Tag: Veterans Day

Veterans Month and Mental Health

It is appropriate to talk about this Veterans Day 2018—Sunday, November 11—when talking about veterans and mental health.

Veterans Day was originally celebrated as Armistice Day, the day that World War I ended. This Veterans Day marks the one hundredth anniversary of the end of “the war to end all wars.”

Modern awareness of the widespread psychological effects of warfare began early in World War I, with the phenomenon of “shell shock.” In looking back at the war, there is still a question of how many cases were, in terms then used, “commotional” (due to explosions at close range) and how many cases were “emotional” (due to the psychological experience of war). In either case, numbers of warriors came home different and troubled—troubles which might last for the rest of their lives, and even serve to shorten those lives.

In the wars since, different theories and treatments have been developed, different labels have been attached. Today, those of us on the outside of this experience know it as PTSD. Those on the inside know it as the hell of war and its aftermath.

This will be another month—since a day is absolutely not enough—of honoring veterans. Judging by the still inadequate attention and support, they are more honored in the breach than in the observance. Among the failures too long to list is insufficiently acknowledging and taking responsibility for the mental health of those who we send to serve.

If you don’t want war—blessed are the peacemakers—then work for that. If you want war, or reluctantly think that war is necessary, treat those you send to fight for you as your own family, your own siblings, your own children. Because they are somebody’s.

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A Very Short Primer on Veterans

1. When we as people of a nation order or ask others to fight for any cause, we must treat them, their service, and their families with the highest practical lifelong honor and healing, that is, with more than just symbols or rhetoric.

2. As we order or ask for that service, from the first we must study the causes that we are fighting for, in light of all our truest values, not just the values that are convenient, expedient, self-serving or inadequately considered.

3. While we will likely never be a world without warriors, we owe it to the warriors—past, present and future—to be peacemakers.

Veterans Day and Operation Unite America

veterans-day

Friday, November 11 is Veterans Day, which this year arrives during the same week as Election Day (you remember that day, don’t you?)

The great Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) has organized Operation Unite America:

Veterans Day 2016 is just 3 days after Election Day. Join IAVA’s campaign to do the impossible: bring together all Americans.

After a long, brutal and disgusting election season, everyone’s had it. It hasn’t been a good look for America. Everyone is exhausted–many are outright embarrassed. But Republican, Democrat, Independent, Other…we’re ALL sick of the bickering, the commercials, the debates, the politics, the fighting.

Here is your mission (if you choose to accept it!), JOIN US:

Tag your Veterans Day activities on social media with #veteransday

Donate $11 to IAVA to help us support veterans

Attend a #veteransday #VetTogether

 

tammy-duckworth

In the wake of Election Day, it is happy news to report that Rep. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois won a seat in the U.S. Senate. She is an Iraq War veteran, awarded the Purple Heart after losing both her legs. She joins a number of women warriors in Congress, which needs more women and more experienced warriors who know how to choose our wars carefully. And who will take good care of other warriors when they come home.

Veterans Day: The Annual Shame of a Nation

Veterans Boots

Failure to take full and proper care of veterans is not a Democratic or Republican shame. The only reason to focus on Republicans here is that last night, in their debate, on the eve of Veterans Day, only four passing mentions of veterans were made during two hours.

The debate was formally about the economy, but since every one behind the podiums is practiced at changing the subject, there’s no reason some or all of them couldn’t have just said: The economy is an important topic, but just tonight, this particular night, I’d like to focus my time exclusively on veterans matters.

Here’s what one of them might have said:

There is enough responsibility to go around for getting this nation involved in military conflicts. It doesn’t matter what party started it or finished it or didn’t finish it. It doesn’t matter whether it was a great idea or a terrible idea or whether it is too soon to tell. As a nation, we do what we do, and we have to pay the price and keep our promises. In the case of military service, that promise is to spare no expense or effort to not only make combatants whole, or whole as humanly possible, but to elevate their service to priority status in our national consciousness and commitments.

That’s why I’m going to spend whatever minutes I have on this national debate platform tonight to talk specifically about immediate solutions to veterans issues, rather than casting blame or blowing hot air. I also call upon the millionaires and billionaires supporting us and trying to influence the election to divert just a little of that money to nonpartisan efforts such as Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America to start solving the problem. Of course, making this a government first priority would be nice too. Because if it comes down to a choice between any of us actually getting the nomination, which is admittedly a long shot for most of us anyway, and the comfort and well-being of those men and women we’ve flag-wavingly asked to fight on our behalf, I’d rather ask that those veterans be made whole than that I be President.

I know. Dream on.

Warriors Day

Battle of the Somme - 1916

Today is Warriors Day. We call it Veterans Day, which intentionally or inadvertently distances it from a harsher reality. It began in 1919 to commemorate the Armistice that ended World War I, the War to End All Wars.

Who is a warrior?

In broad terms, all of us are warriors of some sort, battling for causes and ideals ranging from the personal to the cosmic, and everything in between. We fight for ourselves, our families, our nation, our ideologies, our traditions.

But the warriors of Warriors Day are something very specific. These are the people we delegate to fight for us, for causes that we deem significant enough to sacrifice their safety, their bodies, their lives. Under threat, current or prospective, real or perceived, we sacrifice them and peace so that we might ultimately have peace.

What should we do?

After the fact of war, we should keep whatever promises we make to warriors—without adjustment, equivocation, or renegotiation. World War I provided one of the most egregious instances of this. World War I veterans were not to receive full payment of their service bonus until 1945. But the Depression left many of them destitute. Thousands of them marched on Washington in 1932, seeking an advance of this payment. The letter of the law dictated waiting; the spirit of their sacrifice and hardship demanded payment. The Bonus Marchers were violently dispersed, though in 1936 Congress met the demands—over FDR’s veto.

Before the fact of war, we should consider everything involved. Really consider, not just blow hard self-righteously and politically. This is easier for those who have actually been warriors, though that number is decreasing as a proportion of our population, especially among our politicians and policy makers. Those veterans may or may not be able to sort through and articulate all the issues of our most complex geopolitics ever, but they can do something home front folks can’t—relive the experience of being a warrior.

Demand truth. Truth is said to be the first casualty of war, including pre-war and post-war. Right now, for example, Obama’s talk about “advisers only” in Iraq is making some veterans, particularly those of Vietnam, shake their heads. Col. Jack Jacobs, an NBC commentator, observed this morning that his experience as an “adviser” in Vietnam inevitably involved combat.

What about peace?

Peace, the absence of conflict at all levels, may not be a possibility. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be our default position, the one from which all other circumstances are an aberration. For whatever reasons, conflict seems to be the default position for some, including those in positions of power and influence. There are things worth fighting for, but before moving forward, we need to be much surer of what those things are, how we are going about the fight, and how honest we can be. Most of all, if it is someone else doing the fighting at our command, we must realize that we are totally answerable for the consequences, as uncomfortable and costly as that might turn out to be.

Veterans Day and Busby Berkeley

Gold Diggers of 1933
Gold Diggers of 1933 may be the strangest of all classic movies—and the one that has the most to say about Veterans Day 2013.

It is classic because it is still entertaining: snappy, cynical dialogue; singing and dancing that may be a little out of style, but Busby Berkeley production numbers that are still wonders of the world, in part because they were actually performed and filmed on sound stages—no special effects or shortcuts. Your jaw will drop in astonishment and delight.

The strangeness is that framing this jollity is a movie about the Depression—not as a backdrop but about it, head on. Nowhere is this incongruity more obvious than the close of the movie. There is a penultimate mega-happy ending, where the three down-on-their-luck showgirls marry the three rich Boston bluebloods. But just then, there is one last song and production number: Remember My Forgotten Man.

In 1932, most veterans of World War I were out of work, as were so many others. In 1924 the government had authorized a longstanding practice of offering bonuses to those who served in war. This took the form of Certificates of Service, which matured over 20 years, and were to be paid in annual installments. But in the midst of the Depression, the veterans didn’t need that money down the road—they needed it right now. A movement for immediate redemption of the certificates gained momentum (the amount was tens of billions of dollars in today’s money). So in 1932, 43,000 marchers—veterans, their families and their supporters—gathered in Washington in what came to be called the Bonus Army, to demand cash payment. This was rebuffed. President Hoover and Republicans in Congress believed that this would require a tax increase, and that a tax increase would delay the recovery of the economy.

These were the Forgotten Men. As the tragic climax of a musical comedy, we watch a sordid street scene, narrated in song by Gingers Rogers. She is now surviving as a prostitute, married to a war veteran abandoned by the government and the nation. On stage we see the troops marching off in glory to cheers and flag-waving, only to return broken and injured, with no one to greet or comfort them—or even to remember them.

Remember My Forgotten Man

I don’t know if he deserves a bit of sympathy,
Forget your sympathy, that’s all right with me.
I was satisfied to drift along from day to day,
Till they came and took my man away.

Remember my forgotten man,
You put a rifle in his hand;
You sent him far away,
You shouted, “Hip, hooray!”
But look at him today!

Remember my forgotten man,
You had him cultivate the land;
He walked behind the plow,
The sweat fell from his brow,
But look at him right now!

And once, he used to love me,
I was happy then;
He used to take care of me,
Won’t you bring him back again?
‘Cause ever since the world began,
A woman’s got to have a man;
Forgetting him, you see,
Means you’re forgetting me
Like my forgotten man.

Maybe the musicals of the 1930s are old-fashioned and for a lot of people unwatchable. Maybe Busby Berkeley is just some campy choreographer whose over-the-top numbers are funny but incomparable to today’s digital masterpieces. Then again, maybe ending a popular entertainment with a bleak and uncompromising plea to our national conscience isn’t a bad idea—and never goes out of style. Remember Our Forgotten People, circa 2013.