A Day to Celebrate World Peace, Civilians, Survivors, and an Old Friend
Veterans Day in the United States started out with a proclamation by President Woodrow Wilson, 90 years ago, to celebrate on November 11th the armistice — peace treaty — ending World War I. It wasn’t until 1953 when a Kansas shoe-store owner named Al King came up with the idea of using that holiday to honor all war veterans that the campaign to turn Armistice Day into Veterans Day got its legs.
Veterans — according to Al King’s idea for this holiday — are soldiers who managed to get back from one of the Unites States’ wars alive. We in the United States honor those who didn’t get back from a war alive on Memorial Day at the end of May. And, however much you might want to thank a man or woman currently serving, Veterans Day is not yet their holiday. That would be like giving out high-school diplomas to sophomores.
I’m not sure whether Al King contemplated the idea of his holiday honoring servicemen and women who never went to war, but served during peacetime. Not that there’s ever been all that much of that.
The thing about war veterans is that they know from personal experience the fragility and preciousness of life, and why it’s better to settle things without fighting if that option is on the menu. That sort of experience used to be called wisdom. It’s what some older people have that most younger people don’t.
Veterans also know what they were told they were fighting for, and that has a definite flavor and smell to them. So a lot of them tend to get grouchy when what they thought they were fighting for is treated cavalierly by the people entrusted to keep it going.
For their wisdom, and knowing that liberty is worth fighting for, I like many others take this opportunity to thank veterans for their service.
Of all the veterans I’ve known in my life, the one I like best didn’t actually wear the uniform of the United States during a war. He was disabled out of the Navy — which he expected to make a lifetime career after graduating from the United States Naval Academy — before World War II broke out, and his service during World War II was as a civilian engineer. He told people — including me, when I interviewed him — that he couldn’t get back into the service because of his health. That wasn’t quite true.
His biographer, Bill Patterson, discovered that he’d been politically active in the California Democratic Party before the War and was considered too much of a pinko to be trusted. That’s pretty ironic considering that many years later he wrote a science-fiction novel which is generally regarded about as right-wing, pro-military, and even fascist as any ever written: Starship Troopers.
In the movie Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay Neil Patrick Harris — playing himself — is given a total pass under ridiculously suspicious circumstances by an ultra-right-wing military officer because Neil played a role in Starship Troopers, which is this douche bag’s favorite movie. That’s pretty much all that Hollywood types imagine they understand about the political thinking of author Robert A. Heinlein.
In Heinlein’s novel, a veteran doesn’t have to be a military veteran but can be a veteran of any government service — and most of them are non-military jobs. The deal is, you sign up, the government gives you tests to figure out what you do best and where you’re needed, and that’s what your service job consists of. If war breaks out you might end up with a weapon in your hand but otherwise probably not. There are no draftees in Heinlein’s novel — government service is 100% voluntary. At the end of your term of service — and not a second before — you get the right to vote. Currently serving personnel have no franchise, so voting is entirely by civilians … but civilians who have chosen to place their social group above themselves for part of their lives.
Now, I’m not down with Heinlein’s Starship Troopers qualification for voting because I don’t go along with taxation without representation. On the other hand, Heinlein never specified in the novel whether taxes could be levied on non-voters. So he finessed my possible objection by not dealing with it.
But Heinlein’s science-fictional thought experiment does have the advantage that the people who are voting are of net value to the people around them rather than being net burdens. Heinlein always considered, from his reading of history, that the downside of unrestricted democracy was the masses voting themselves benefits on the backs of a productive minority who were then enslaved to the power of the majority. He considered that a re-invention of slavery and opposed it.
For his opposition to working-class slavery Robert A. Heinlein has been branded a fascist by generations of morons who have no moral problem with picking the pockets of people who work harder and smarter than they feel like doing.
Mr. Heinlein passed into the next world over two decades ago, but I believe in life-after-death and he may be reading this.
So Happy Veterans Day, Mr. Heinlein, and I hope wherever you are your slanderers have to kiss your ass.