As a federal holiday, many have the day off from work. Some will walk in the Veterans Day Parade on 5th Avenue in New York City and smiled as people waved at them. Others will walk in parades across the U.S. and Canada to be symbolically remembered for serving in the military.
Ironically, the rest of the days in the year leave veterans outside of society’s symbolic collective reality. Society has one day for veterans. Veterans, in society’s daily life, involves amnesia towards veterans. Society has amnesia and not merely indifference towards veterans. Society’s amnesia lacks a preferential option for those who served and sacrificed for their country. The many days given by veterans in their service are merely captured on a commercial for a day off and a day of shopping.
Why can’t veterans be remembered beyond the actual Veterans Day holiday?
Why can’t veterans be remembered on a day when a business corporation contemplates hiring a new employee, or when a cable news network discusses a possible military intervention without presenting the troops in the news flash? These types of ordinary days miss the veteran and a veteran’s service is not valued by society, and yet the veteran truly valued his/her society by serving society in a civic expression of sacrifice.
Where is the mutuality between society and those members of society known as “veterans”?
Where is society’s sacrifice towards the veteran? Let me share that I am a veteran who swore to defend this country four times in my life going back to 1986. The last time I served involved volunteering during the Iraq War Surge of 2007 and leaving monastic religious life. I am not owed anything. And yes, at the time, I could not accept the untruth of Iraq and its alleged possession of WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction).
Let me mention a truth in my blind patriotism. I made a preferential option for a society that sent me to a war that was loaded with blind patriotism. While falling for untruth, I was against fighting in a war as a friar monk. Society has not atoned for not making a preferential option for certain members of society who live daily lives that involve attempts at making sense of their, at times, senseless military service. This is a meaning-making that is unique and calls for society to offer a sense of mutuality to those readjusting from the military experience that is not defined by a federal holiday.
I use “preferential option” because when I was a monk, I learned about the deeper meaning behind the theoretic understanding of liberation theology. Liberation theology first vectored me as a young man. At that time, during the 1980s, I understood liberation theology to be the plight of Latin American revolutionaries fomenting insurgency against vicious dictatorships dominating those seeking a better way of life for themselves and their families. In those days, I could only understand that the revolutionaries believed that God had a preferential option for the poor. This is not to be confused with favoritism towards the poor.
Many years after understanding the theory of liberation theology, I joined a Catholic Religious Order, the Dominican Friars. Ironically, the founder of liberation theology, Father Gustavo Gutierrez, was part of the Order I joined. It was revisiting liberation theology as a monk friar that I learned the essential message of liberation theology.
After reading Gutierrez’s A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation in monastic religious life, I came to understand that making a preferential option for the poor is not saying that God is on the side of the poor in an absolute way. It is not a fetish for the poor. It is not favoritism of the poor. It is more of a daily remembrance of the poor.
So, the experience of the readjusting veteran is not just a humanist existential struggle.
The wider understanding of liberation theology demands a reflection tied to a challenge in daily life, but also considers the spiritual poverty of many veterans. This is an expansive understanding of religious experience as promoted by the great father of American Pragmatism, William James, MD in his epic work Varieties of Religious Experience. I hope that society can remember that many veterans are poor in spirit after their military service. The human cost of leaving civilian life to serve in the military is taxing in the unseen road of readjustment and reintegration into society.
The veteran reality is distinct from pre-military existence and actual military life.
The veteran is often found to return to a society that forgets the veteran as a living person and living spirit. The rate of veteran suicide is beyond the mass culture understanding of “22 veteran suicides a day”. A deeper understanding of veteran experiences takes me to the spiritual poverty in that every 65 minutes, a veteran takes his or her own life (Military Suicide Research Consortium, 2012). Let us not focus on the type of military duty lived out by that deceased veteran, let us accept the spiritual poverty of the lost hopeless deceased veteran.
My own experiences with darkness in veteran readjustment during Christmas 2015 led me to connect the existential world and the spiritual world. My job was triggering the war every day. And, like many other veterans, my lack of networks in the community left me to tackle military readjustment alone.
The spiritual care I received as a kid at Easter Church Camp and the deep spiritual chats I would have with fellow soldiers in Iraq were a distant memory. The void was not just an existential one for me. The post-military life left me with dark things to negotiate without an accepting society to absorb some of this darkness.
My visitations with my son were being compromised as I was spending many hours fighting as a whistleblower at my job as a director in the US Department of Veterans Affairs. Ironically, the place where I pursued my “daily bread” was also the less than adequate place providing me medical/psycho-spiritual care.
Many veterans with suicidal thoughts cannot share their experiences with others. I write about my hopeless experience of veteran suicide to inform others about things not often talked about deeply on Veterans Day. I honor those veterans with their own private journey with post-military hopelessness.
Now, I am a 51-year-old man with my military service behind me left with the voice to openly engage my life as it unfolded before the military, during the military, and after the military. This is imperative to present so others can understand that my message about Veterans Day is not an empty rant against society.
Society’s having amnesia towards veterans
Earlier, I mentioned society having amnesia towards veterans. This amnesia fails to recognize that I and other veterans live out Veterans Day every day outside of a parade on November 11th each year. The daily life of the veteran is the biggest thing forgotten by society.
Here is how Veterans Day is experienced on many days of the year not just one day of a department store sale that is tied to a holiday catered to those “off” from work. and seek to shop on the holiday called Veterans Day. It is Veterans Day when the VA Hospital does not call you back to set up a military-related medical appointment. It is Veterans Day when your “EX” chooses not to let your child see you because your life is transitioning from a War while many others of lesser character see their children every day. Veterans Day unfolds for a veteran, on a day when a peer at work just asks about your age without authentically asking about the military service that caused the delay in being part of the civilian workforce.
The amnesia of society not remembering veterans throughout the year is a societal reality that is not just society’s indifference towards veterans. There is a problem with the dominant culture pursuing the commercialization and minimization of the veteran experience after the military. Though I look upon the veteran experience from an expansive religious experiential perspective, I engage human themes tied to veterans and the society they are a part of. What are the ways society can consider a preferential option to those who served their country? After all, the veteran showed a preferential option towards society via his/her service to society.
By the way, I fought and won as a whistleblower at my job as a veteran employee at the VA. I continue to serve veterans as an advocate and public intellectual. I continue to be a better father as the doors close periodically in my daily life as a vet dad. In my challenges of dealing with societal amnesia towards veterans, I know, at least today, I survived Iraq and Home. I try to make a preferential option for myself every day. My veteran brothers/sisters and others who take the time to check on me and reach out as a way of caring about my civilian life and my military life.
This is Veterans Day for me.
If you or someone you know is in crisis or having suicidal thoughts please reach out. You are not alone. Here are some resources.
If you believe in the work we are doing here at The Good Men Project, please join us as a Premium Member, today.
All Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS.
A $50 annual membership gives you an all-access pass. You can be a part of every call, group, class, and community.
A $25 annual membership gives you access to one class, one Social Interest group, and our online communities.
A $12 annual membership gives you access to our Friday calls with the publisher, our online community.
Register New Account
Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.
Stock photo ID:1176324323