Veterans Day Is a Time to Reflect on the Purpose of Veterans

My dad (R) home on leave with his brother Gino, c. 1944

W.J. Astore

I come from a family of veterans.  My father and his two brothers served in the military during World War II.  My mother’s brother fought at Guadalcanal against the Japanese and was awarded the Bronze Star.  Later, my eldest brother enlisted in the Air Force at the tail end of the Vietnam War, which my brother-in-law had fought in as a radio operator attached to the artillery.  Their service helped to inspire my decision to become an officer in the U.S. Air Force.

Military service is honorable, not because of wars waged or lives taken, but because of its purpose: to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.  And this should be the purpose of Veterans Day: to take note of our veterans and their service in upholding the ideals of our Constitution, including freedom of speech and assembly, freedom of the press, a right to privacy, and most of all a government that is responsive to our needs and accountable to our oversight.

Yet since World War II America has fought wars without formal Congressional declarations.  The Korean War, the Vietnam War, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere, have lacked the wholehearted support of the American people.  They were arguably unnecessary wars in the sense these countries and peoples posed no direct threat to America and our Constitution.  Indeed, prosecuting these wars often posed more of a threat to that very Constitution.

Naturally, America associates veterans with wars and combat, and we say the dead made “the ultimate sacrifice,” which indeed they did.  But for what purpose, and to what end?  We owe it to veterans to ask these questions: for what purposes are we risking their lives, and to what end are these wars being waged?  If we can’t answer these simple questions, in terms intimately associated with our Constitution and the true needs of national defense, we should end these wars immediately.

Unending wars are the worst enemy of freedom and liberty.  This isn’t just my sentiment.  As James Madison put it, “Of all the enemies of true liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded … No nation can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”  America once knew this; we were once a nation that was slow to anger and with little taste for large military establishments.

A few years ago, I stumbled across old sheet music in a bookstore.  Catching my eye was the title of the song: “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to be a Soldier,” respectfully dedicated to “Every Mother – Everywhere.”  From 1915, this popular song captured American resistance to the calamitous “Great War” that we now call World War I.  Anti-war sentiment was strong that year in America, and indeed Woodrow Wilson would be reelected president in 1916 in large part because he had kept Americans out of the war.  The lyrics put it plainly: a mother who’d brought her son up “to be my pride and joy” didn’t want to see that same son having “to shoot some other mother’s darling boy.”

The contrast in these lyrics to recent U.S. military recruitment commercials couldn’t be starker.  In a new Department of Defense advertising campaign, featuring the catchphrase “Their success tomorrow begins with your support today,” mothers are shown incongruously in military settings asking their sons why they wanted to sign up.  Weapons are featured prominently in these ads, but no combat.  There’s much talk of teamwork and being part of something larger than yourself but no talk of the U.S. Constitution.  At the end of these spots, the young men depicted have convinced their mothers that it’s desirable indeed to have your boy become a soldier.

Recruitment ads, of course, have never been at pains to show the true costs of war.  When I was a teen, the Army’s motto was “Be all that you can be.”  For the Navy, service was about “adventure.”  For the Air Force, it was about “a great way of life.”  These ads, by ignoring or eliding war’s costs, have contributed to America’s tighter embrace of war on the world stage and its severe impact, not only on our veterans but on our democracy.  America’s strategy of “global reach, global power” has embroiled us in wars of choice that we increasingly choose not to end.  Surely, it’s time to chart a more pacific path.

Sometimes the best offense is a good defense.  On this Veterans Day, let’s remind ourselves that veterans exist to defend our Constitution and our country, but that endless warfare, and intensifying militarism, are in fact among the most pressing dangers to our democracy.    

William Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and history professor, is a senior fellow at the Eisenhower Media Network (EMN), an organization of critical veteran military and national security professionals.

25 thoughts on “Veterans Day Is a Time to Reflect on the Purpose of Veterans

  1. All true and undimmed by human tears… Wish I still had our Father’s double-breasted overcoat in pic! :/ :o)


  2. As you commented a couple months ago, Professor Asrore, bringing back the concept of, and an organization for, national service would be immensely valuable to the country. Not only would such service provide training and knowledge, it would offer comraderie and the opportunity for people to work together toward a common goal. There must be thousands of projects nationwide that could be completed with such civilian efforts, affording the companionship of the military without the guns.

    I believe Dennis Kucinich (yes, yet another comment in praise) was the first to popularize the slogan, “Support our troops—bring them home now!” That was when he was advocating the establishment of a Department of Peace and calling for an end to the war in Iraq from the moment it began. His stance resonated with many Americans, but obviously, not with the moneyed interests, so he got nowhere. Military service, in any or no cause, continues to be glorified and mythologized, even after the services have allowed extremists and even felons to join. The calls for more bodies to prosecute wars—or military actions—all over the globe are constant. We need continual expenditures of people, guns, planes, ships, and supplies to preserve and protect the Constitution….why? Where is the threat? Recently, a fervent Orange-supporter acquaintance declared, “He’s the only one who can defend us!” My question was, “From WHAT???” If we fall back on logic instead of the propaganda of fear, the answer is simple: we face no enemies requiring the ceaseless, ever-mounting cost of, “military preparedness.”

    Honoring the veterans who’ve served honorably is fine, although one wishes they had not been duped enough or desperate enough to sign up, in the cases of conflicts in the last 20 years. But how much better it would be to put those who want to serve our country to work rehabbing infrastructure or performing other tasks that actually SERVE OUR COUNTRY, not Boeing or Lockheed or Raytheon or other greedy, dishonest MIC operatives.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes. A Department of Peace makes a lot of sense, because peace doesn’t just happen. It requires as much work as war, and probably more. But the work is not about weapons, so the military-industrial complex doesn’t see much profit in it, to understate the case!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The “purpose” of veterans today, of course, is to serve as photo-op props for politicians. The purpose of soldiers to actually defend the Constitution of USA, which we were all required to swear to do upon taking the oath of enlistment, was long ago abandoned. One last point: “Veterans Day” used to be marked separately from Armistice Day, the source of the date of November 11 as its location on the calendar. The armistice that finally ended the horrific “War to End All Wars” went into effect at 11 AM local time on 11 November 1918. Unsurprisingly, given the jingoistic bent of the US Empire, Armistice Day has been replaced on the calendar by the relocated Veterans Day. I view the best way to “honor veterans” as putting an end to these Wars of Choice we’ve been burdened with since the end of World War II.

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  4. Hard to believe it’s already 35 years since Reagan and the Soviets were shouting at each other in Public, and it appeared if that was all for show, it was still possible an unintended accident could bring about the unthinkable.

    On Remembrance Day, November 11, 1985, the Spirit of the Times moved me to make this Declaration at CanaDa’s National Commeration in the hearing of the Governor-General, The Prime Minister, the Military Brass, the Ambassadors of the Nations and the Public, after the Moment of Silence and the Prayers by the Establishment Religions asking God there should be no more War,
    “Hear O people and Nations, even to the ends of the Earth, the Word of the LORD God, who is, and was, and is to come, The Almighty.

    The LORD has a controversy with the people.

    Do you do well to honour the dead, and yet, deny the God of the Living?

    Why do you follow the vain traditions of men, and make of no effect, the Principles of God?

    You come here for one hour, one day a year, in a great show of Public Patriotism, and then forgetting, go back to work and make the same careless mistakes made by the generations prior to the 1st and 2nd World Wars.

    Hitler is dead, but it’s his legacy that remains. A Soviet-American military-industrial complex consuming $trillions of dollars every year, holding the entire World hostage…………”

    “Hostage” was the last word said perched on a bus shelter roof, as police got up and grabbed the megaphone. I was arrested for shouting, causing a disturbance, convicted and fined $250. I appealed without a lawyer to The Supreme Court of Canada.


  5. I find it rather incongruous that a nation that claims to be “Christian” glorifies war so much and uses military force so often when Jesus said things like “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God.” Andrew , “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.”

    But then
    “This people gives me lip service, but their hearts are far from me.”

    Just sayin’

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I made this comment in The Washington Post Sunday in an article examining the possible Biden options toward China.

      As has happened with all Imperial-Hegemonic Superpower Nations in Human History, the Signs are clear, the Sun is setting on the American Empire, as the Sun set on the British Empire before it. It will be the shortest Empire of them all in Human History.

      That unfolding Reality is as terrifying to US Power, like it must appear to Trump, after the American People told him, “You’re Fired!”
      Such an Irony, and Poetic sense of Justice!

      China didn’t come to the US 30 years ago, and steal American jobs. US Capitalists went to China, where Labour costs were so much less, and abandoned US Workers who got those US Corporation started.
      China didn’t steal US Technology. With a Market of 1,500,000,000 People, as is China’s Sovereign Right, required Foreign Companies to have a Chinese Partner Company, or don’t come to China.

      The problem for America, is the Chinese learned to play the Capitalist game better than America with the Made in China hybrid State Capitalism-Communism system. The Chinese System has lifted over 800,000,000 of it’s People out of Poverty, as Poverty, Homelessness and Sickness is on the rise in the HQ of Capitalism.

      The US, as Leader of the World, has ruled by Economic Sanction and Military threat, starting with being the one and only Nation to use Nukes to let the World know who’s the New Boss at the End of WWII.
      Just the size of the US Defence Budget at $735,000,000,000 this year alone is evidence of that, being BIGGER than that of Russia, Iran, China, North Korea and several other Nations COMBINED.

      The US Military-Industrial Complex with all it’s multiple tentacles in the US Economy, and being totally addicted to Taxpayer Dollars to survive, needs a BIGGER FIX every Year, and the Politicians they support, gives the increase year after year.

      Dr. King said, “A Nation that continues year after year to spend more money on War than on programs of Social uplift is approaching Spiritual Death.”

      Most Christian America is BLIND and Oblivious to this one line, but a most important one in their Bibles.
      ‘Not by military force and not by physical strength, but by My spirit,’ says the Lord of Hosts.
      They support to Status Quo of the Pyramid System we have over us, with the Billionaires at the pinnacle getting richer, and the Masses of poor at the bottom getting poorer, discounting all the Biblical admonitions about the rich.
      We know what happens to all Pyramid systems, when the pretense of trickle down Economics is inverse to the Reality with a flood of cash flowing up to the rich minority at the Top.


      1. “Might makes right” has been the unspoken real motto of this country for a very long time. (Since the first European settlers arrived, really, bibles in hand.) The enormity of the hypocrisy of those who quote selectively from “the Good Book” to try to justify their crimes is beyond my ability to describe in words.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. It was telling when Abe Lincoln reversed that and said “right makes might.” If only we’d been more in the right as a country. (Not on the right.)

          Liked by 2 people

  6. Because I’m a bluff old traditionalist (BOT), at 11:11 AM – exactly 2 hours from now in Central European Time – this laptop and my phone will be shut off as I observe 60 seconds of silence to mark the end of the shooting in The War to End All Wars, The War That Made the World Safe for Democracy. Armistice Day. It was still called that when I was a kid, and we did in fact observe 60 seconds of silence in school. But only historians remember that war now, having been consigned to “the dustbin of history.”
    My paternal grandfather – a British “Tommy” in what he called “that war” – is who I will be thinking of today. He saw no glory in it, and viewed his enlistment as “the right thing to do.”
    When was the last time America’s military was deployed because it was “the right thing to do”? Not in my lifetime, and I’m pushing 67.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. The purpose of veterans?

    As a veteran of the Nixon-Kissinger Fig Leaf Contingent (Vietnam 1970-72), I have a rather jaundiced view of how my country utilized me during my nearly six years of penurious indentured servitude. For the most part I agree with the movie character Jack Reacher who explained to a lady lawyer about his former trade:

    “There are four types of people who join the military. For some, it’s family trade. Others are patriots, eager to serve. Next you have those who just need a job. Then there’s the kind who want the legal means of killing other people.”

    I would only add that the word-like noise, “patriot” best accords with Civil War veteran Ambrose Bierce’s definition in his Devil’s Dictionary: namely, “The dupe of statesmen and the tool of conquerors.”

    As Chris Hedges writes in Death of the Liberal Class (2010):

    “Public manifestations of gratitude are reserved for veterans who dutifully read from the script handed out to them by the state. The veterans trotted out for viewing are those who are compliant and palatable, those we can stand to look at without horror, those willing to go along with the lie that war is the highest form of patriotism. “Thank you for your service,” we are supposed to say. These soldiers are used to perpetuate the myth. We are used to honor it.”

    So, again: The purpose of veterans? To perpetuate a murderous mythology (quasi-religious Military Idolatry) employing endless Ordnance Expenditure Exercises motivated by Commendation Accumulation Syndrome.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank You for Your Servility

      The Sacred Symbol Soldier serves to shield
      The fans from what transpires upon the field
      Of battle, far away in distant lands,
      While “patriots” swill beer up in the stands,
      And cheer the gladiators down below
      Who (for a dollar) put on quite a show.

      To market war as just another game
      Makes money for the ones who have no shame.
      To move the mob, they wave the bloody shirt
      Concealing blood and bowels in the dirt.
      Their crimes they seek to hide behind the troops:
      Those tools of conquerors and statesmen’s dupes.

      The Taboo Troop shows up at sports events
      To bask in brief applause; no malcontents:
      Disgusted, wounded, angry, are allowed
      To give the middle finger to the crowd
      And so the wars, somewhere, go on and on
      Sold by the slave; promoted by the pawn

      Michael Murry,”The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2017


    2. Yet another example of President Donald Trump firing a general he didn’t have the sense not to hire in the first place.

      On seeing a picture of retired Marine Corps General (and former Trump administration Secretary of Defense) James Mattis modelling a “combat inspired” leather jacket in an attempt to market a rather ludicrous notion of “masculinity.”

      Military Idolatry
      (in the style of John Allan Wyeth’s This Man’s Army: A War in Fifty-Odd Sonnets)

      The old man wears a leather jacket — black —
      to celebrate Fallujah, the assaults
      he led in order to avenge insult:
      The deaths of four Blackwater dogs of war.
      These mercenaries helped make up the pack
      of thieves despoiling Baghdad. Their mad waltz
      provoked the inescapable result:
      Their corpses hanging from a bridge. Therefore,
      Bush sends in the Marines to teach Iraq
      That protesting their emptied storage vaults
      — or “some kid with a vase,” Rumsfeld would say —
      brings on the bloody Mad Dog Mattis cult,
      a “manly” mob of murderers galore
      to trash a city. Such a price to pay.

      Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2020

      Liked by 1 person

        1. And yet….the U.S. continues to deny any culpability. I remember reading for years the denials that DU was used overseas, then white phosphorus. Now that the deployment of those two substances is common knowledge, the Pentagon denies any adverse consequences. Gulf War Syndrome was said to be a figment of returning soldiers’ imaginations. Is there no evil to which the war machine will not stoop? [rhetorical question; I know the answer]


          1. Meanwhile, I’m still wondering if any objective/neutral observer can confirm that any contingent of US troops has actually departed Afghanistan since Trump claimed he’d be juggling personnel levels there??

            Liked by 1 person

          2. Tonight I revisited the 1936 film “Things to Come,” the making of which was personally micro-managed by its author, H.G. Wells. I needed to watch an anti-war movie on Armistice Day, and hadn’t spun this one in a while. I guess not since Trump took office, because it hit me like a clap of thunder tonight: Donald Trump is ‘The Chief/The Boss,’ memorably played by Ralph Richardson. Thirty years (1940-1970) of global warfare and pestilence have reduced the human race to tribal groups fighting over dwindling resources. ‘The Chief’s own ragged troops are no longer even fighting invaders from the European continent; they’re fighting “The Hill Men” who have access to coal nearby. ‘The Chief’ is a simple brute, uncultured, utterly without compassion, with a self-inflated ego that inspired him to declare himself the local War Lord. He struts about in a ridiculous excuse for finery and demands instant and total obedience to his orders. Pretty damned Trumpian if you ask me!


    3. You’ve been out of the military too long, Mike. It’s MI for OEE for CAS. Military Idolatry for Ordnance Expenditure Exercises for Commendation Accumulation Syndrome. 🙂 Perhaps we might add PP, for prodigious profits.

      Liked by 1 person

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