In 1918, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month at the eleventh hour, an armistice went into effect for the Great War, the first step to end “The war to end all wars.” In 1919, the United States began celebrating Armistice Day on November 11. But this was not the end of war but the first of two World Wars, followed by Korea; Vietnam; the Cold War (for which there are veterans but no medals nor recognition); conflicts in Grenada, Lebanon, and Panama ; the Gulf War; the current war of Global Terrorism (Afghanistan and Iraq). Today is not just a federal holiday, a day off for school children and government employees. Today we remember those who have served in the armed forces during these wars and conflicts.
The world has been shaped by the United States’ involvement abroad. No matter how you feel about our participation in some of these wars or conflicts, you have to admire the patriotism of those who joined the military. These men and women valued our freedom enough to risk their own lives. They deserve gratitude and recognition. And we need to recognize everyone who served, especially those who served during the Cold War, a stealth conflict that permeated our everyday lives, affecting politics and technology. Yet we do not recognize the men and women who served in our military during this unofficial skirmish, not a real war, not a real battle, but a clash between two powers that could have led to disaster.
We do not recognize the men who tracked Soviet nuclear subs or spent weeks under water in our nuclear subs. We do not honor the troops who stood by the Berlin Wall, observing. We do not honor those who monitored Soviet communications. The threat loomed over our country enough to that we stored missiles in silos and manufactured nuclear ships and subs. But today those who served during the years that were not involved in other conflicts receive no recognition. (Nor are they eligible to join Veterans of Foreign Wars.) This seems particularly unfair to those who served after Vietnam, when military service was often mocked and jeered.
Perhaps our indifference is that the Cold War faded away during a period of national prosperity. The fallout shelter signs disappeared; the bomb shelters became a symbol of cultural fears, the mushroom cloud posters faded. When I taught Ray Bradbury’s short story, “There Will Come Soft Rains,” many students didn’t understand what had happened to the people in the house. They struggled with Stephen Vincent Benet’s “By the Waters of Babylon.” The cautionary morals are meaningless to teens who were toddlers during 9/11. When we do not feel threatened, we do not feel fear.
While the loss of a United States ambassador in Benghazi suggests that we should perhaps feel threatened, the fact that we do not is because we have faith in our military, in our National Defense, in our own patriotic resilience. We owe our feelings of security to those who serve in the military today. We owe our freedom to those who served in the past, in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War and the Cold War. Those who are willing to stand on the line of fire to defend us deserve our gratitude and respect.