Our defense budget is equal to much of the rest of the world’s defense put together. In that respect, we are the most powerful country in the world. But the Social Progress Index for 2015, ranking how we stand worldwide as a country in terms of taking care of people in need, puts the United States 16th. We are 30th in life expectancy, 38th in saving children’s lives, a humiliating 55th in women surviving childbirth, and the embarrassing list goes on. This is the environment our new veterans come home to, in many cases, with incredible needs that are not adequately funded.
We remember the World War II generation of veterans, “the greatest generation,” with fondness and rightfully so. This is true not only because of their success and sacrifice, but for the positive impacts around the world that followed. The veterans of the Vietnam War had a totally different experience. Controversy surrounded decisions to get involved and certainly also on how and when to get out. Our fractured country failed in many ways to appreciate the sacrifice that thousands and thousands of our young men and women made. The Ken Burns documentary on the Vietnam War certainly makes it clear that it was those at the top of the chain of command making mistake after mistake that had such great detrimental influence on thousands and thousands of lives.
Iraq and Afghanistan are totally different. Men and women signed up to do the job, and it left an environment where most Americans today, without the draft, operate as if we are totally removed. Politically, at the time, members of both parties supported President George W. Bush in making the decision to engage. Now we have North Korea as our new national security challenge, all while our elected officials have turned Washington into a political circus. It used to be that politics stopped at the water’s edge, and the country’s interests were put first. Now the rhetoric is viciously partisan, making it difficult to get any consensus including on responsibility to provide our veterans with what they have earned.
Hopefully this Saturday we can pause for two reasons. One: to appreciate all that our veterans have done for this country, and two: to commit to doing what we, as individual citizens, can do to communicate to the President and the Congress that our veterans deserve much better. This will not happen until we the people engage, cast intelligent votes, and help rescue our wonderful country.