“Bear in mind that most veterans did nothing heroic. They served, and that’s laudable, but it hardly seems necessary to provide them all with military honors after they have died.”
This is the argument offered by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Bill McClellan in his recent column on why the federal government should no longer provide military funeral honors to veterans.
Give honors only to those who have died in combat, he writes. If others want honors they should look to their veterans organizations such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VWF) to provide them.
“Everybody knows government needs to cut costs,” he writes. “This is exactly how you do it. You identify things you don’t need, and you cut them.”
McClellan bases his knowledge of the lack of heroism in veterans off his own experience in Vietnam.
“I did nothing heroic. Nor did any of my close friends. But I knew people who did, and it devalues the real heroes to say that everybody was one,” he writes. “If everybody is a hero, nobody is.”
I can see how he arrived at this conclusion. He’s saying that in a drafted military you are there because you have no other choice.
But he’s still way off target.
Vietnam or not-- not everybody is a hero. But we know that everyone who served IS. Plenty of drafted men didn’t even show up, placing those who did in a different category. And enduring scorn after homecoming, as our many Vietnam Vet commenters will happily tell you, is no joke either.
McClellan doesn't think he's a hero. But isn't humility one of the marks of heroism?
And in today’s wars, again, certainly not everybody is a hero. Less than one percent of Americans volunteer to serve. That makes more than 99 percent of Americans (with the obvious exclusion of our firefights and cops who are heroes in their own right) excluded from this category.
Ninety-nine percent of Americans are not heroes. One percent are heroes just by virtue of volunteering for the risk of war.
Not everybody is a hero. Just the one percent.
The other problem with McClellan’s argument is the question of how you define “hero.”
McClellan says that the real heroes are the ones who have given up actual life. And there’s no question about it – that is the highest sacrifice.
But we know from personal experience that plenty who have served have given all but their life. Some have given some or all their limbs. Some have given their ability to think, to remember, to function. Some have given their mental health. Our heroes have given their hearing, they’re skeletal integrity, their ability to walk without a limp, going a week without combat dreams and many more things the 99 percent takes for granted.
We know that the military’s citation and awards programs are imperfect at best. Plenty of acts of heroism go unrecognized or unreported. So even saying "only give honors to those who have been recognized as earning it" would miss the mark.
Yes, we have to cut costs. And yes, the way you do it is by cutting things you don’t need.
Do veterans NEED full honors at their funeral? Probably not. But America NEEDS military veterans. And there’s no price you can put on that.