"It's important to speak out against militarism, particularly on Veterans Day, because there are still many people who think opposing militarism and America's wars means you don't support the troops or our veterans," Derek Matthews, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran with deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, told Common Dreams on Wednesday.
Matthews is just one of numerous veterans across the United States who is marking the federal holiday by taking to the streets or mobilizing to spread a counter-narrative: of demilitarization, human rights, and true remembrance.
"The best way to support our troops and veterans is to speak out against militarism and give existing veterans the care they need," continued Matthews, who is a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW).
"Militarism and war are so ingrained and normalized in our culture that it can be difficult to imagine that our society could ever be any different."
—Kelly Dougherty, Iraq Veterans Against the WarFor many, this means reclaiming the roots of Veterans Day by invoking the internationally-recognized Armistice Day—established to mark the conclusion of World War I in 1918. It wasn't until after World War II, when U.S. empire emerged in full force, that the day was proclaimed Veterans Day by former President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
In 50 major cities across the United States, members of Veterans for Peace (VFP) are gathering to "celebrate the original Armistice Day as was done at the end of World War I, when the world came together in realization that war is so horrible, we must end it now," according to an organizational statement.
"When most people think of Veterans Day they don’t think about peace and ending war," said Michael McPhearson, a veteran of the first Gulf War and national executive director of VFP. "The day has become a time for parades, flag waving and shopping."
"The celebration is hollow," McPhearson continued. "Twenty-two veterans die each day to suicide. Many veterans are homeless and awaiting much needed healthcare. Others are struggling to find jobs. The best thing to do for veterans is to address these issues throughout the year and push our government to end our global wars."
Emily Yates, a member of IVAW and Iraq Veteran, echoed this point. "For me, Veterans Day is a reminder that we need to keep working to care for the victims and veterans of ongoing war, because the country we served isn't going to do it," Yates told Common Dreams. "My desire is a return to Armistice Day—the day we stop creating more veterans."
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IVAW members, meanwhile, are unrolling a campaign called Drop the MIC (Military Industrial Complex) to "interrupt the business-as-usual of the Military Industrial Complex and to fight for our right to heal." Some are sharing Veterans Day counter-narratives on social media, while others are staging banner drops and light brigades.
"When most people think of Veterans Day they don’t think about peace and ending war. The day has become a time for parades, flag waving and shopping."
—Michael McPhearson, Veterans for Peace
"Fourteen years into this post 9-11 period of endless war, it is sadly apparent that there is much work to be done to break this toxic culture where military domination is valued over all else," reads a campaign statement. "The occupations by U.S. military forces of both Iraq and Afghanistan continue on; the ever-increasing drone attacks being carried out in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and in Syria; and the consequent displacement of civilian populations from these areas is causing people to take dangerous and fatal risks to escape, and is creating the refugee crises we see boiling over with tragic consequences around the globe."
What's more, the campaign seeks to connect U.S. militarism abroad with racist policing at home—which has been pushed to the forefront of national consciousness through ongoing mass protests under the call of "Black Lives Matter." According to Drop the MIC, both share the same root cause: militarism.
"In order to justify militarism and war, you have to convince people there is a need for war. You do work to convince and use levers of influence: media, schools, people in uniform talking in school," IVAW member Jovanni Reyes told Common Dreams. "But if people are not convinced, they will not support you."
Those calling this Veterans Day for U.S. society to re-imagine honor and remembrance are not the first.
As World War II veteran Howard Zinn declared in 2006: "Our decent impulse, to recognize the ordeal of our veterans, has been used to obscure the fact that they died, they were crippled, for no good cause other than the power and profit of a few. Veterans Day, instead of an occasion for denouncing war, has become an occasion for bringing out the flags, the uniforms, the martial music, the patriotic speeches reeking with hypocrisy. Those who name holidays, playing on our genuine feeling for veterans, have turned a day that celebrated the end of a horror into a day to honor militarism."
"Militarism and war are so ingrained and normalized in our culture that it can be difficult to imagine that our society could ever be any different," Kelly Dougherty, Iraq veteran and co-founder of IVAW, told Common Dreams. "Veterans can mobilize others to imagine a future without militarism and unjust war."