Does The Way We Celebrate Veterans Day Alienate Some Veterans?

The past few days have been slow posting days. That’s partly because I’m exhausted by the passing of another Veterans Day.

This year, I’ve seen quite a few essays encouraging Americans not to objectify veterans (examples here and here). It seems like winds are shifting for the media herd, and I take this as a sign that the country is heading in the right direction—namely, sanity about the complex implications of military service. But we’ve still got a few things to learn.

Civilians probably don’t realize this, but Veterans Day is a source of great alienation for many veterans. To some veterans, even if individual volunteers have laudable reasons for enlisting, and even if history vindicates a certain cause, the violent context of their service militates against open celebration. I’ve spoken with a quite a few vets who share my preference for avoiding the festivities.

The prevailing norms don’t help. We are told that Veterans Day is “not about politics,” but it sure is difficult to coherently frame military sacrifice without placing that sacrifice in a political context. War fetishists leap at the opportunity to cheerlead on the sly: Some do it with loaded phrases like “fighting for our freedom” that are at odds with military history; others blare the names of specific conflicts that add nothing to their point.

Of course, it would be uncouth to challenge the simplicity of these ideas as they are blasted to a cheering crowd from ten-foot speakers. Better hope you can compartmentalize that lingering guilt over a mistaken checkpoint shooting, because we didn’t stand in the cold for an hour and a half to hear about that.

On the other hand, some veterans take part in the celebrations and the parades with toothy smiles. Not all of them support the political decision to initiate and/or continue the wars in which they fought. This just reinforces my belief that very few generalizations hold true across the “veteran” category. Get enough veterans together and they will agree on almost nothing except the desirability of VA benefits and the undesirability of losing their friends. I hope that our national observances will continue to move in a somber, reflective direction that doesn’t validate some veterans at the expense of others.


  1. Hey Jason. Here’s what I did on Veteran’s Day. I googled the names of some of my former students who are vets to see if I could find them to check how they are doing. I’m so glad I came across your blog. I couldn’t find an e-mail link for you but I’d love to know what you are up to, and you can reach me at my Fullerton College address:

    Hope you are well.

  2. Dear Jay,

    Thank you for your service to our country. From your post I sense a misdirected anger in your approach to Veterans Day. For generations Veterans Day is a celebration of those that have served, survived and sacrificed and yes, it is about freedom, patriotism and national pride too. Veterans Day is a way to teach and educate the youth about the history of those that have gone before them. Although, it is understandable that a day dedicated to military service could evoke feelings and memories of traumatic war experiences or even valid concerns about political influences or of how a war was managed or mis-managed. There are also those that use those feelings to come together and heal, this is especially true of WWII veterans. I value Veterans Day as a day to be grateful for what I have, grateful for my husbands service in the Desert Storm, my father’s service in Vietnam, my mother experiences in Germany as a child in war, and especially grateful to those Americans that liberated her city from the Nazis. The kindness of an American soldier giving chocolate to a hungry five year old girl, helped inspired her to come to America and give me the opportunity of the life I have today, and how grateful I am.

  3. Thanks for commenting, Angi.

    I have to disagree that my anger is misdirected.

    If you click on the link I provided, you’ll see that there is very little empirical foundation for the claim that our freedom is directly owed to veterans of the US military. There are plenty of grounded reasons to appreciate military service; there is no need to mislead people and in turn minimize the contributions of justice professionals whose decisions literally and directly uphold our freedom on a daily basis.

    I am aware that SOME of us use Veterans Day to come together and heal. But if the manner in which we celebrate the Day alienates some veterans, then it is in service to something other than the veteran community. There is no need to feel constrained to our current method of celebration. As I implied in the post, a more somber, reflective observation is possible.

    Thanks again for engaging. I hope you’ll keep reading.

  4. Just to be clear, I did not intend for the post to be an expression of anger. I tried to write in a calm and objective tone because it’s not fair to hold a grudge against people for behaving in a certain way when they had no way of knowing that said behavior turns some veterans off.

  5. Jim Walton says:

    Hey Jason. I’ve been out of the military for 40+ years now and didn’t really appreciate Veteran’s Day until about 10 years ago. The way I see it , it’s a day to remember a part of my life, now long passed. It allows me to heal and, if I reflect on things properly, to grow and to make sense of what seemed to make no sense at the time. By this I don’t mean that the Vietnam War makes more sense than it did then. I’ll leave that to the historians. Rather it’s about how my experience has helped to form me in later life. The verdict on that so far is: In some ways it has been of great benefit in others, not so much.
    In most of the nation there isn’t much of an observance and that’s ok from my point of view. It’s better than the veiled contempt of the 70s.
    The major benefit to vets is that it allows us to reflect on our service and to talk to other vets, to make the connections we need to make, both social and emotional.
    My war was never about freedom, or mom, or apple pie, nor was it about the good or the evil that we did–although I can think of instances of both. It was about keeping our selves alive and looking out for each other. And,as it turns out, about being a soldier and a grunt for life.

  6. It is about allowing yourself to keep on living outside of the nightmare.

  7. Chante Wolf says:

    Thank you for your article and sentiments. I served 12 years in the Air Force, including deployment to Desert Shield/Storm and I feel that our days to thank veterans and to mourn their sacrifice has just become another weekend sale event.

    Veterans Day use to be Armistice Day which was changed in 1954 {for Angi}. In my opinion it was a sly way to infuse misguided patriotism for our nations military interventions after WWII from: Korea; Iran; Vietnam; Guatemala; Egypt; Lebanon; Iraq 1958; China; Panama; Vietnam 1960-75; Laos, Cuba; Germany; Cuba 1962; Panama; Indonesia; Dominican Republic; Guatemala 1966-67; Detroit 1967 Army battles Blacks, 43 killed; United States 1968, Kent State; Cambodia; Oman; Laos; Dakota 1973 Wounded Knee; Mideast; Chile; Cambodia; Angola; Iran; Libya; El Salvador 1980-92; Nicaragua; Honduras; Lebanon; Grenada; Libya; Bolivia; Iran; Libya 1989; Virgin Islands; Philippines; Panama 1989; Liberia; Saudi Arabia Desert Shield/Storm 1990-91; Kuwait; Iraq bombing, sanctions 1990-2003; Los Angeles 1992; Somalia; Yugoslavia; Bosnia; Haiti 2001; Afghanistan; Iraq; to Libya and Somalia etc. {As you also pointed out in your link above}.

    According to Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler, USMC {Ret.}, 2 time recipient of the Medal of Honor said in his book: “War is a Racket”:

    “I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped se to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested.”

    Our gains of freedoms and rights were done through the movements of the people, by the people and supported by congress, for they are the ones who laid out and signed the laws, not the military. The military is used to win wars using all means available to do so. They do not fight for our individual freedoms, rather the freedoms of the corporations to spread capitalism, labeled ‘Democracy’ and ‘Freedom’ through violence.

    “Freedoms” are granted for the corporate businesses to be allowed into countries in order to have unlimited access {cheap labor too} to their natural resources needed to create the products of that corporation from rubber, fruit, sugar, minerals like gold, diamonds, lithium {for computers and cell phones}, to oil, natural gas and water for Coke and Pepsi etc. No where in that mix is the truth that our sacrifice has given the Blacks and women the right to vote, gay people to marry, and citizens the right to protest freely without incarceration for trespassing and the right to be free from governmental spying on people without court order based on evidence that they have actually committed a crime.

    In my opinion, Veterans Day has just become another level of ‘Support the Troops and the War'{s}’. Which is very unfortunate, as again, it use to be Armistice Day, a day of remembrance and encouragement that WWI was the war to end ALL war.

    Chante Wolf
    U.S. Air Force, 1980-92
    Veterans For Peace

    Recommended books for others {and you if you haven’t seen these}:
    “War is a Racket” Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler, USMC {Ret.}
    “Killing Hope” William Blum
    “A History of Bombing” Sven Lindvist
    “The Fire This Time” Ramsey Clark
    “Confessions of an Economic Hitman” John Perkins
    “Shock Doctrine” Naomi Kline
    “The End of America: Letter of Warning To A Young Patriot” Naomi Wolf
    “Kill Anything That Moves” Nick Turse
    “The Bomb” Howard Zinn
    “War is a Lie” David Swanson
    “Packing Inferno: The Unmaking of a Marine” Tyler E. Boudreau
    “The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War” Col. Andrew J. Bacevich, USA, {Ret.}

  8. My thoughts on Veterans Day were best expressed in a poem about families and absence, “While He’s Away: A Poem About Being Gone”

  9. Thanks for innorducitg a little rationality into this debate.

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