Starting as Armistice Day, celebrated for the first time November 11, 1919–the first anniversary of the end of World War I in 1918—what we now call Veterans Day is the observance of thanks to those who have served military duty. It acknowledges the living and the dead for honorably representing the country during peacetime and war. This year it is imperative that people understand that honor and the name Donald Trump cannot fit in the same sentence. His dishonor to the service and sacrifice of American service members in Syria and to our Kurdish allies is the epitome of disgraceful.
This was the offense too much for General James Mattis to stomach, the reason he resigned from his position as Secretary of Defense, because nothing is more dishonorable than betraying and turning your back on those who sacrificed right next to you. Mattis could not countenance the resultant resurgence of ISIS in the region, and the escape of the ISIS soldiers during predictable episodes of Turkish violence. It is the neglect of honor—the abdication of core values—that makes working with and for a grifting narcissist like Trump nauseating.
There is a long string of such disgrace. He offers no empathy to prisoners of war; he likes it better when they avoid capture. Instead of reflecting on the trauma of those who were led to participate in the crimes against humanity in Vietnam and Cambodia, he said avoiding STDs was his own personal Vietnam—he partied after his fake bone spur exemption while others were drafted and died. It happens when he calls Purple Heart recipients disloyal, or dual loyal, because the only service he cares about is blind loyalty to him. Lt. Col. Vindman is just one in an incredibly long string to receive Trump treatment for simply speaking the truth. Gold Star families, relatives of those who paid the ultimate price defending the U.S., deserve no esteem from Trump, and are disrespected by him again and again. He really does not care about anyone but himself, careers of dedicated service be damned!
As one who carries these convictions, I know that one can be anti-war, pro-peace, and honor veterans. These are not mutually exclusive beliefs or feelings, and they represent long thought, listening, and learning.
Twenty years ago I used to listen to unimaginable stories. A regular customer at the pizza place I worked at told me I reminded him of a guy he shared a foxhole with. I just listened. He never recovered from Vietnam—he self-medicated with alcohol—and he just needed someone to listen. I’ve heard hundreds, maybe thousands, of stories from people deployed all over the planet, students, friends, strangers… Empathy and compassion are the first step toward honoring those tortured souls.
It is not enough to look to the bully-in-charge. Maybe he’ll manage to avoid tossing out insults for a half-dozen tweets, maybe he will not. Trump is a coward and a bully, and he is unlikely to change–at this point he is a bitter lost cause. The real point is to look to all those supporting, promoting, or enabling his reprehensible behavior and ask them to re-evaluate.
A deep appreciation for honoring Veterans must go deeper. Defending them against those who insult, defame, and betray their service only scratches the surface. We need to stop electing the kinds of representatives who use them as pawns serving political purposes instead of simply defending the country. No civil society should write blank checks for military force while leaving more than 40,000 veterans homeless and hundreds of thousands more to live with food insecurity and poverty. We must stop electing representatives who believe these people are disposable.
The deepest commitment is a patriotic commitment to the protection of the fundamental principles of our constitutional democracy. The fascist and authoritarian tendencies of this White House and those who cling to their loyalty to Donald Trump are the greatest dishonor to those who swore oaths to protect this country from enemies “foreign and domestic.” Want to honor veterans? Get out in the streets—protest for an end of the tenure of the criminal in the White House. Veterans have not fought to remove dictators in other countries to see a President ignoring checks and balances while insisting that he is above the law in their home country.
On November 11th, Donald Trump will share his usual lies. Just remember this is the man who avoided a Republican debate in 2016 so that he could purportedly raise money for veterans. Remember that he held onto millions of dollars raised for veterans—instead of sending it to where it was needed. The Trump Foundation was no charity at all, its primary purpose, “little more than a [personal] checkbook […]to pay off the legal obligations of entities he controlled.” Then find the protest nearest you, #OutNow is one source of information, because the disgrace in the White House is not going to resign on his own, and everyone deserves better than this, especially those who risk death for what they believe is defending our country.