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Tue, Nov. 12

Column | Can we avoid a war over Veterans Day

The words weren’t aimed directly at me, but I was recently flummoxed by an unexpected undercurrent of animosity.

In an online post, a military veteran refused to confine his anger to people who spit on veterans or ignore veterans. He vented about citizens who actually pause to ACKNOWLEDGE the contribution of former servicepeople.

Echoing the recent gun-control backlash against “thoughts and prayers,” the veteran expressed disdain for people who are satisfied with flying an American flag, shaking hands with a veteran or dashing off a rousing Nov. 11 opinion piece.

The veteran’s message could be paraphrased as: “If you really gave a rat’s rear end about veterans, you’d be mowing my lawn or cleaning out my garage instead of making meaningless gestures.”

I don’t know what percentage of veterans secretly share that writer’s sentiments, but perhaps it’s time to deal with the elephant that many of us didn’t realize was in the room.

Yes, more of us need to learn to make veteran appreciation a 365-day-a-year habit. And, yes, there are shallow, selfish civilians with way too much leisure time on their hands. I agree that these people should not be encouraged to pat themselves on the back for the herculean task of clicking “Like” on a patriotic social media post.

On the other hand, it is unrealistic and unfair to expect all of society to “jump when I say jump and ask how high on the way up” when disgruntled veterans start prescribing exactly how honor should be paid.

Many veterans return from war with hideous physical and psychological wounds, but most civilians have their own ailments and obstacles to overcome. Multiple part-time jobs. Special-needs children. Chronic fatigue syndrome. Aging parents. All these situations can rob a well-meaning person of the time, energy and flexibility to do chores for veterans.

Also, honoring veterans is an admirable endeavor, but not the only good work that society needs performed. And veterans might be helped indirectly by some of those other projects that people choose to devote their time and talents to. It might be a veteran’s niece who gets helped by a Breast Cancer Awareness Month fundraiser. It might be their grandchild who benefits from the positive role model of a volunteer youth athletics coach. It might be their lifelong best friend who gets a decent home because of Habitat for Humanity volunteers.

Finally, sometimes ignorance IS an excuse. Some veterans may hide their disabilities too well. People may assume that veterans have family members to help them. People may assume that veterans would be offended by offers of assistance.

The number of disastrous dates, successful scams and bad hiring decisions in this country demonstrate that we are not a nation of mind readers. Veterans truly in need of assistance should be willing to make their needs known to neighbors, churches or civic groups.

Does there exist a single soldier, Marine, sailor or airman who didn’t at some point wish a superior officer would cut them some slack and grant them the benefit of the doubt?

On behalf of other civilians, I humbly ask for a little patience and understanding from our nation’s veterans.

Civilians, use that breathing space to be more mindful of the needs of those who kept us free.

Our country’s wars should be a struggle against enemies of liberty, not a struggle among ourselves.

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