Best Veterans Day Commentary

Healing our veterans, learning from them, and how to think about the tradition of America's military

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Today is November 11, known as Veterans Day in the States and Armistice Day or Remembrance Day elsewhere. It commemorates the end of World War I, dramatically declared in 1918 on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month--with tragic casualties resulting from the wait for poetry's sake. It also, however, is a day both in the U.S. and elsewhere for honoring veterans of all wars, both past and present. Here's a roundup of some of the best Veterans Day editorial offerings.

  • Why Separate Veterans Courts Are a Good Idea  Veterans afflicted by post-traumatic stress disorder don't always seek help from veterans' organizations, writes Ronald Castille, a Vietnam Marine lieutenant now chief justice on the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.  "As a result," many "find themselves on the wrong side of the law, for reasons related more to their experiences in service to their country than to criminal intent." One New York judge began a special Veterans Treatment Court which "give[s] former service members with post-traumatic stress disorder a path toward recovery without forcing them to also navigate the penal system. ... Veterans typically charged with nonviolent crimes and suffering from substance dependency, mental health problems or both are placed in a special docket," and, following screening, "are offered a place in a treatment program geared to veterans instead of standing trial." The model has since been replicated elsewhere, and receives Castille's hearty endorsement: "Repaying America's debt to its veterans means giving them the opportunity to succeed in civilian life," and he sees this is as a "pragmatic" step towards meeting this obligation (recidivism rates are shockingly low to nonexistent).
  • Veterans' Stories Throughout the Ages  Perhaps one of the most effective offerings comes as a collection of readers' write-ins, published by The New York Times as part of their Lives During Wartime series (there was one for last year's Veteran's Day as well). Included are stories from veterans and their families from World War II to Vietnam and Iraq. Here's one very short one:

We were in Cambodia a month before the official action investigating an N.V.A. strong hold. May 1969. These two Airborne Rangers died on either side of me. I survived because of them and their sacrifice.

I have a personal memorial every Veterans Day. I have everyone within earshot repeat their names. The concept is: as long as their names go through someone's mind and off someone's lips, they live forever.

Please: Don Davis and Bob Pritchard.

Thank you very much.

  • We Need to Do More  "From 2005 to 2009, more than 1,100 service members committed suicide," writes retired Army officer Bob Kinder, who previously worked under General McChrystal in Afghanistan, in The Boston Globe. Substance abuse is up, along with domestic abuse--by "177 percent in the past six years"--and "orders for antipsychotic medications." Though the Department of Defense has stopped "unfairly discharging combat troops by erroneously claiming a service member had a personality disorder rather than post-traumatic stress disorder," it has now begun similarly unfairly discharing them for "adjustment disorder." When this happens, not only are those serving "thrown out of the military," but are "often ineligible to receive benefits, losing tens of thousands of dollars of medical and rehabilitative care." These loopholes need to be closed, declares Kinder.
As our sons and daughters return home, we must humbly acknowledge their service and sacrifice, heal their wounds, restore their sense of hope, and enable them to reenter the civilian community as healthy, functioning members of society. Support our troops? Absolutely. It is our sacred honor.
  • Bringing Home the Meaning of Sacrifice  Patrick Logan writes in The Washington Post of his father's experiences in World War II. His father, at the end, got to return home to his wife. "They enjoyed 52 postwar years together. Their five children have enjoyed a total of 282 years." But that's "an outcome that might have been denied by a random piece of shrapnel or an order to stand guard duty." When seeing names of those that have fallen in Afghanistan, Logan writes, we need to remember that each death conceals a clause that loved ones will repeat for years: 'If only he hadn't ... ' The unfinished thoughts will hang in the air, silenced by the countless dreams of what might have been." Says Logan: "We must feel this sacrifice."
  • The U.S. Army: Created to Build Nations  The Wire already mentioned this in today's 5 Best Columns, but it deserves some space here, too. Swarthmore political science professor Dominic Tierney points out that "the troops from America's farming heartlands who are helping Afghans build greenhouses, grow cops and better feed cattle" are in fact "following in the footsteps of our earliest soldiers." From the very beginning, our nation's founders "aimed to create what the historian Michael Tate called a 'multipurpose army,' designed for a wide variety of functions beyond combat." In fact, "troops cut down trees and farmed. They built schools, hospitals and, by 1830, 1,900 miles of roads." They built the Washington Aqueduct, "helped to survey and map the West" (Lewis and Clark were Captain Lewis and Second Lieutenant Clark, he notes), "assisted the naturalist James Audubon, and more. And West Point, established by Thomas Jefferson, "was a great foundry of nation-building" in the nineteenth century, "provid[ing] the best engineering education in the United States." So what's the message for today?
Some officers warn that an army of nation-builders would lose its edge at conventional warfare. But in keeping with the founders’ belief that the soldier’s role was to build, not just to destroy, we need our own multipurpose military. ... And just as in Jefferson’s time, West Point in the 21st century should supply a nation-builder’s education, and we should encourage its efforts to emphasize in its curriculum the study of foreign languages and cultures.
  • Learn from the WWII Vets--and Do It Now  Here's an unusual op-ed: it comes from New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, writing in USA Today. He recalls visiting Okinawa and, feeling overcome, calling his grandfather from "the site of one of World War II's bloodiest battles between invading U.S. forces and the defending Japanese," asking him "to recall that day." Writes Brees: "Had a Japanese bullet killed my grandfather, I would not be here. Nor would my sons." World War II veterans are now "dying at the rate of 797 a day, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs." Brees "urge[s] families to seek out these veterans. Thank them for their service. Ask them questions. Let your children listen." The "Greatest Generation" still has stories to tell: "All Americans should hear them. Especially our kids. But they need to be heard soon."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.