November is National Veteran and Military Families Month in the United States—so designated since 1996. But November has also held an important place in the families of those who have served the nation in its uniform—and indeed, of all American families—since 1919, when President Woodrow Wilson first celebrated Armistice Day, asking the nation to turn its thoughts toward those who had sacrificed on America’s behalf in the Great War concluded in 1918, at “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.” The President’s purpose then was not for the focus to be confined to those soldiers who had died fighting in the war, but to encourage reflection on how the heroism of those who had fought provided the opportunity for victory—and how that victory was both about what we were “freed from” as well as its own opportunity to show what freedom was for: peace and justice.
On the eve of World War II, Armistice Day became a federal holiday. After WWII and with a new generation of veterans, President Eisenhower and Congress officially renamed Armistice Day as Veterans Day, expanding the recognition of the holiday to include the living veterans of all American wars, which differentiates it in purpose from Memorial Day. And in his first Veterans Day Proclamation, President Eisenhower again emphasized the ultimate for the federal holiday—to “pay tribute” to those who do, and did, our fighting and “be rededicating ourselves to the cause of peace.”
Military veterans exist because of war. Their existence is born out of a tragedy occurring in national or international affairs, which is a fact for us to pause over whenever we might reflexively lament the diminishing numbers of veterans in American society or in political office. But veterans themselves are not a tragedy, nor are they somehow inherently tragic, “broken” beings. And because of the actually problematic fact that not only are fewer American youths in general willing to serve in uniform but also that the ones who do typically come from the same families and the same geographic regions, most Americans seem to know only myths and vaguenesses about veterans and the military, rather than to know who veterans are in reality.
So this November, in light of how veterans and their families, and current soldiers, sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coasties and their families are all contributing toward something vital to our national interest—“the cause of peace”—I’ll be highlighting numerous aspects across numerous blog posts of being a veteran or being a member of a military family, and the issues, tensions, joys, and social positives that this crucial demographic of our democratic society contend with on a daily basis. Look for posts on the changing demographics of the veteran community; a wrestling with the historical concept of the veteran and “veteranness”; veterans running for political office and the social capital that veterans can and do bring with them into the civilian sector; what we know about how twenty years of war may have affected the children growing up within military families with parents constantly deployed; how the public image of veterans in fact influences military recruitment; why our military and nearly all Western militaries (outside of Poland) are currently struggling with recruitment; how the American holiday of Thanksgiving is connected with the American military; why the Department of Veteran Affairs is so scandal-ridden; and many, many similar fascinating topics.
November shouldn’t be a month that just those in the military or with a veteran family member should find special or important. All of us, especially civilians, should make this month a month of opportunity to better inform ourselves about not just what, but who, it takes to keep our nation safe and free.