Remembrance day is always tricky.
For the week or two prior, up to and including November 11th citizens across the nation are at their most patriotic, everyone for those 11 days is a supporter of Vets. Everyone wants to say thank-you and take a "Selfie" with a man or woman in uniform. It's one of my favourite times of year for this reason, as a civilian supporter it fills me with hope for the human race, it feels very genuinely like people do care, they do want to help, and they do truly appreciate the sacrifices made by our veterans.
It's also awkward though.
There are better qualified people on the team that can talk about the Veteran perspective, I want to discuss the civilian side of things. As a civilian I find there are a few things that we struggle with on Remembrance Day (And frankly at a lot of Veteran events) and the issues seem to spring from a knowledge gap and experience gap. The knowledge gap is around what it means to "Support" veterans and the experience gap is, frankly, experience being around these people.
What does it mean to "Support" Veterans?
It's a difficult thing for some people to wrap their head around because "Support" and "Remember" are different things. I always think about this shirt I saw from RangerUp that sums it pretty well, support means this:
1. Sending the troops to war should be the LAST option.
2. If you send them, give them what they NEED to win.
3. The path to victory is bloody and cruel. War ISN'T Hollywood.
4. Let them WIN.
5. Treat them FAIRLY when they return.
And that's pretty succinct, some of the verbiage above is a little soft but it gets the point across, i'll cover them in reverse order.
One of the things we hear a lot of is that veterans have a difficult time when they get home because the media and society loves to run its mouth about such and such conflict being unjustified, and talking about how it was just about greed. Imagine, for a moment, that your blood brother and best friend died at war, you were wounded, and you came home to someone that wasn't on the battlefield but instead spent their time partying and drinking who looks at you and says, effectively, you fought for nothing, you were wounded for no reason, and your brother died because the government wanted money. Now imagine you hear that a couple times a week or more, you hear it on the news, you hear it from politicians and other friends, what would that do to you? How would you feel? How much of that could you take?
Espousing such views is not "Supporting" the troops, it is literally and in a very real way jeopardizing their lives. This trendy notion of "I support the troops but not the war" is no form of support. It's a feel good measure for ourselves without any accountability for our own actions and decisions. We are blessed to have a volunteer army, those that go overseas to fight CHOOSE to go, they volunteer and in some cases, like in reserve units, often compete for the privilege. They volunteer to go so we don't have to face the ugly reality of conflict on the home-front. It's an honor to go to war in the military, not something most are ashamed of.
Even if we think wars are fought for greed we have to ask whose greed, exactly, is it that is driving that decision? The "Government" isn't the one using 2.2 million barrels of oil a year, they aren't the ones running their mouths about oil being too expensive at the pumps and the 'Evils' of the tar sands. It's us. It's the citizens. It's our greed. So if we espouse that view, and it's not a great one by the way, we need to understand that the blame lies on us directly. So is it really treating them fairly to have those views? and lay that at their feet? Is it really fair to condemn the work they do (War) as something to be ashamed of? no. No it's not.
Four and three are related, let's talk the reality of wars for a minute. This ugly monster usually rears its head in the form of discussions about civilian casualties and conduct at war. Here's something you can do to get an understanding, ask one of your friends who served about their "Rules of Engagement" and sit down and listen to what they have to say. Short version is this. The length that allied forces (Canadian, American, Australian, Israeli, etc.) go to in order to minimize civilian casualties is extreme. Often described as limiting the effectiveness of operations. So when we go off about how the military is careless because some civilians were killed and it made the news, we're not supporting the troops, we're betraying them. When we protest and put pressure on politicians to further tighten up those operations the effect is often tighter rules of engagement that put our own men and women in service at greater risk. People like to look at WWII as the last "Morally Righteous War" so let's look at some numbers.
Total Military deaths in WWII: 22 Million
Total Civilian Deaths in WWII due to military activity: 19 Million
It's often cited that approximately 11 million were killed in the concentration camps, which still leaves 8 Million civilians killed from military operations 1 civilian for every 2.75 military. The loss of life, civilian and enlisted is tragic and horrendous, but in war it happens. We like to act self-righteous from the comfort of our homes whenever we hear reports that civilians got killed in Afghanistan, or Iraq or wherever we happen to be, and it's not right and it's a betrayal of our men and women in uniform.
Do You think they "WANT" to kill civilians? Imagine if at your work every time there was an error an innocent person died. Every time that presentation is sent back to you for revision? Civilians died, and every time you were late? One of your buddies died. Now imagine you come home and your "Friends" grieve for all the times you were late and condemn you for not spending enough time editing. You want to talk about putting mental strain on someone? because that's what it's like.
If we support the troops it's our duty to support them when mistakes happen as well, support them even when they made a mistake and people got killed. They have to live with that already, they don't need us raining more criticism on them, trust me, they do it to themselves enough. Our job, our duty as a "Supporter" is to encourage them, support them even when it's not popular or easy to do so.
One and two are straightforward. If we have to send the troops, give them what they need. Is your MP, House Rep etc. proposing military cuts and war is on the horizon? Don’t vote for that guy. Simple. You want to talk about how the military can save money? Awesome, conversations about inefficiencies in procurement are fine, but simply holding the view that the military doesn't need it's "Toys” is silly, and again dangerous to our men and women in uniform. These aren't toys, this is like saying a hospital doesn't need lifesaving equipment because that is what these "Toys" are used for, to save lives. We skimp on money and get cut rate rifles? When they jam, and Johnny Canuck or Joe American gets shot, it's on us. It's that simple.
Support for the military can be tough, I get It, they do the often ugly work of 'Killing Bad guys and breaking their shit" but if you go to remembrance ceremonies, you wear a poppy, you rock a yellow ribbon magnet on your car and consider yourself a supporter then support them.
Support them when it's hard.
Support them when it's bloody.
Support them when it's unpopular.
Not just when support comes with poppies and a band.