The Veterans Who Pro-War Americans Ignore Every Year

Some are anti-war–or even anti-military. No matter. If they fought for their country, they're equally deserving of recognition each November.

Ethan Epstein of The Weekly Standard has given voice to the many conservatives upset by a song played during a Veterans Day event in Washington, D.C.

"Who would have thought that that Bruce Springsteen, Dave Grohl, and Zac Brown ... would be so, well, tone-deaf?" he wrote. "But how else to explain their choice of song—Creedence Clearwater's famously anti-war anthem 'Fortunate Son'—at the ostensibly pro-military 'Concert for Valor' this evening on the National Mall? The song, not to put too fine a point on it, is an anti-war screed, taking shots at 'the red white and blue.' It was a particularly terrible choice given that 'Fortunate Son' is, moreover, an anti-draft song, and this concert was largely organized to honor those who volunteered to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq."

Rebuttals have focused on Epstein's lyric-deaf analysis. "The song is not an 'anti-war screed,'" Rod Dreher writes at The American Conservative. "It is a song protesting the unfairness of the draft, and how the burden of war-fighting fell disproportionately on members of the working class who were not in college, and couldn’t get, say, five Vietnam War draft deferments, like some former vice presidents."

That's true. But I'm glad that Dreher adds, "Even if it were an anti-war screed, so what?" Every November, pro-war conservatives make a big show of supporting veterans. But their version of Veterans Day might as well be called "pro-military day." The notion that an anti-war song has no place in a Veterans Day celebration underscores the fact that they're totally blind to the existence of anti-war veterans.

Damir Sagolj

They're also blind to the existence of veterans who have sour feelings toward the military. Many do. For some, a superior responded to their combat injury by giving them an other-than-honorable discharge, denying them veterans benefits or even leaving them homeless. Others were raped by a superior officer, reported him, and watched as military brass kept promoting the rapist up the chain of command. Still others regarded Vietnam as a tragic waste that killed their best friend and left them with PTSD—or perhaps they were just furious at how military brass and defense contractors failed to properly arm American soldiers for that conflict. Dark stories like those aren't prototypical, but neither are they rare.

It would be convenient for the ideological project of The Weekly Standard if every veteran was like John McCain: a valor-obsessed advocate for more foreign wars as an ennobling enterprise to advance national greatness in a world of moral clarity.

And Veterans Day is, in fact, partly about celebrating men like McCain, who served his country bravely in Vietnam. But Veterans Day is also about celebrating John Kerry, who threw the medals he won over the White House fence. It's also about celebrating the anti-war veteran who stands at the roundabout in Keene, New Hampshire, with a cardboard sign warning of American militarism.

Joshua Roberts/Reuters

It's about celebrating draftees who were forced against their wills to kill Vietnamese, and Chelsea Manning, who was deployed to Iraq as part of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division. America ought to recognize all veterans on Veteran's Day. Some of them will identify with "Hail to the Chief" and some with "Fortunate Son." The Weekly Standard celebrates only the former—the veterans who happen to be convenient avatars for their ideological goals. Other pro-war sites follow the same script.

It is not a coincidence that when The Washington Free Beacon produced a Veterans Day video, it featured scenes from the World War II Memorial and little else:

Let me emphasize the esteem in which I hold WWII vets. I can scarcely imagine doing what they did. But surviving veterans of World War II—that is to say, the luckiest participants in one of the most just and necessary wars that America ever fought—are not the only veterans who deserve recognition each year. It would be uncomfortable, for neoconservatives especially, to acknowledge all veterans, so their publications mark the day every year as if anti-war and anti-military veterans don't even exist. They object to a mere song acknowledging them.