Sunday, November 11, 2012

Veterans Day, 2012

In every election cycle for the past 10 years, it seems I’ve heard newscasters say the war isn’t a big issue with voters. What? Something seems wrong with that. Yes, the economy is a huge issue and people vote with their pocketbooks. But to relegate two wars in which fellow Americans – acting in our name -- are fighting, dying and losing limbs to an issue of picayune importance?
It’s not right.
To be fair, most Americans are supportive of our nation’s military. In a 2011 Pew Research Center survey, nine out of 10 Americans are proud of our troops and many have personally thanked someone who is or previously has served.
Still, there’s a disconnect between America’s civilians and its military personnel. It’s not like during the Vietnam War when Americans watched the atrocities on the nightly news every night. Not like World Wars I and II when folks on the homefront were buying war bonds, rationing goods and planting victory gardens. That cohesiveness has long since disipitated. We’re disparate parts, unfamiliar with each other.
It’s ironic. Today’s super-media world in which we can speak to each other over time and distance hasn’t erased the loneliness and isolation our military men and women feel. We can consume all the news we want anytime we want, yet our infinite choices leave us more fragmented than connected. There are intelligent news stories from reputable news sources, but overall –and it’s probably all our faults – they’re given short-shrift in the public landscape.
Yet, we all get the gist; something is wrong here. Most of us don’t understand the unique pressures our service men and women are enduring, but we know it’s nothing good and it leaves this uneasy feeling in the air. We’ve caught enough of the news to know that veterans are exhausted from multiple tours of duty. (Some have been deployed 10 times.)
It’s taxing on a person on a person to make the transition from a war to peace time environment. In a war zone, a soldier witnesses horrific violence, sees friends killed. The soldier constantly has to be on guard to save his or her own life. Making the transition from life in an unfamiliar, inhospitable country back the United States where life goes on as it always has would be tough for anyone. For servicemen and women, dealing with the anxiety of not knowing if they will be called back for deployment, it has to be all the more worse. There would be no time to readjust to life at home.
We’ve lost more of our active duty and veteran service men and women to suicide than we have to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. While active military in these wars comprised less than one percent of the population, veterans make up 20 percent of the nation’s suicides. The Dept. of Defense reports that veterans take their lives at the rate of one every 80 minutes. A veteran’s likelihood of committing suicide is double that of the civilian population. For a person between ages 17 and 24, that number is quadrupled.  
That is unacceptable. We can never do enough to thank our veterans. This small, brave group of people has put their education, family, careers…their lives on hold to defend America, and if they are unable to access adequate mental health care, it is a shame we all share as a nation. They should never be left behind, never forgotten.
Of course, all veterans are aware of the U.S. Dept. of Veteran Affairs and the American Legion
Here are some organizations designed to help empower veterans and their families. The number is 1-800-273-8255. Press 1 or text 838255. Help is available 24 hours a day.

This site, the National Alliance on Mental Illness has links to several sites sponsored by community organizations and all branches of the service designed to prevent veteran suicides.

This is a program started by the Dept. of Defense to provide resources and encourage active service members and veterans to seek help as needed.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

The National Military Family Organization

Here is a link from the Obama Whitehouse about laws signed in the past year to assist veterans in such things as tax credits, continuing education and finding employment.

Here is an excellent list of things ordinary people can do to honor veterans:

Despite our apathy toward the wars, I sincerely believe that the vast majority of Americans  -- Democrats, Republicans, white, African-American, Christian, Atheist, Jewish, people who believe in the wars, people who have protested – want the best for our veterans and active service members. Perhaps all of us --- from a public sidetracked by entertainment to politicians not making it a big enough campaign issue to a government telling us to shop and go to Disneyland – are at fault.
 It’s no use, casting blame though. Let’s work on doing better. Check out the above listed websites and look for more. Seek out ways you can improve the lives of service personnel overseas whether it’s by sending books, toiletries, a Christmas tree…whatever. If you know a veteran, talk to them and more importantly, listen. Our oldest veterans, those who served in World War II and Korea, are sadly dying off, and to be in their presence, to hear their stories, is a thing to be treasured.
I read that around half the Iraqi and Afghanistan veterans think the wars were not worth it. That’s profound, especially considering the tragedies, the loss of lives, limbs and brain functioning resulting from those wars. I don’t know exactly what I think, but the veterans of those wars can surely speak with more authority on the subject than I can. Their words, experiences and lives underscore how important it is that we as a public educate ourselves and stay informed.
I’ll never forget driving in my car on the eve of the Iraq War and hearing people call into the radio (a classic rock station nontheless) to say, “Let’s blow em’ off the map.” Uncool.  War is not some video game. Lives are involved, human lives hanging in the balance. Having to engage and witnessing the death and violence of war has no doubt contributed to the mental health crisis among veterans.
Cheering on war is tasteless. Being there for our military men and women, supporting them, welcoming them home and doing right by them will always serve the interest of righteousness.


Monday, November 5, 2012

1976 Campaign Ad: Southerner Jimmy Carter

They don't make campaign ads with this kind of honesty and authenticity anymore. What a shame. Much more pure and heartfelt than a certain movie actor's phony "Mornning in America" ad four years later. I think my heart and intellect is as etched in the 1960s and '70s as the Bob Dylan lyrics Jimmy Carter used to quote from the campaign stump.

The first Presidential election I remember was the 1976 election between Carter and Gerald Ford, the last moderate (with the exception of Kansan Bob Dole in '96) to ever run for President on the Republican ticket, the last Republican to run for president and not sell out to the Religious Right. I remember being in second grade, after he was elected President and hearing my Grandma Mac and her sister, my aunt Velma talk about how Jimmy Carter was a Christian, well versed in scripture. But even at 8-years-old, I knew that was separate from his job as president. I had learned in school during the Bicentennial year how the Pilgrims came to this country to worship as they pleased. In America government didn't tell you what church to attend.

Grandpa Guy sold handcrafted Jimmy Carter donkeys made from the shop that housed his woodworking business. He used to tell me how Carter was a peacemaker.

"Be a Democrat all your life," the old man told me -- this man who told me about the Great Depression before I ever heard about it in school.

We'll fight the good fight, Grandpa.

The American Way of Dying

                                              "Vehicle" -- The Ides of March My Nissan sitting in the parking lot of Fairview...