It wasn’t supposed to be this way. When a war ends, through peace accords or otherwise, the weary warriors come home to families who have worried and waited. Sailors begin to patrol the world instead of sailing directly into a war zone again and again.
But that didn’t happen. Our military and their families have jumped from the frying pan into the fire and have come home to face layoffs, reduced budgets and longer sea tours. We are the pawn in this devastating game of chicken between the civilian heads of our government—the ones have control of the military because one assumes it leads to more stable decision-making (sarcasm intended).
This war featured the “lessons learned” from Vietnam. “Don’t hate the warfighter hate the war,” and all that. Support for the troops became a non-partisan idea. Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Socialists, Atheists…everyone was able to get behind that 1% of the population who was willing to go to a scary place and defend us. And it was beautiful to see. People could disagree over the war itself but still shake the hand of the returning soldier and thank him or her for their service. Now THAT was progress.
But now the support has taken sides. There are those, like my friend Rachael, who has been supporting our military and veterans since way before it was cool to do so. Rachael and those like her will still be there when the media and the celebrities go away. And for that I think she deserves some kind of huge cake with sparklers on top along with the undying appreciation of everyone who has ever worn a uniform. But she is a member of a very small minority whose support is not dictated by politics but rather by compassion.
The rest of the country is strangely silent—I mean everyone but the politicians. I don’t see posts on Facebook from my civilian friends worried what this might do to our national security. Or pointing out the unfairness of it all for dedicated civilian workers struggling to pay their mortgage while missing a whole month of pay. (Many of these furloughed workers, may I remind you, are veterans.)
I wish we could let all those who care more about the argument than the outcome to see those things that won’t get to happen because of their bickering. They would see the lives not saved because our medics can’t train, and wars that were not averted because carriers weren’t able to project power in troubled spots around the globe. They would see high death rate of unprepared pilots who had to rely on simulators instead of real planes to train in and maybe even the return of the draft because we can’t recruit and retain people in a military with no benefits.
I have always believed in civilian control of the military. I like checks and balances. I think our forefathers were a pretty incredibly group of men. But I fear the time has come when politics has trumped all, even the obligations we have to those who fight our wars and their families.
We’ll continue to watch as the finger pointing goes on, and the two sides swipe at one another on the Sunday morning talk shows. We’ll see press conferences with indignant and passionate legislators who find fault with anything and everything that is not on their side rather than finding a solution.
And off to the side are the people who have born the heaviest of burdens. Who looked forward to the lessening of conflict. Who expected to come home and serve for the first time in their career during peace instead of war, only to find themselves the battleground on which another, more sinister war is being waged.
The author of this post wishes to stay anonymous.