The conflating of the terms “veteran” and “hero” is disturbing.
Today for the first time I looked at “Faces of the Fallen,” the Washington Post’s gallery of dead military members; it runs every so often, but I’ve never really looked at it before. Of the 45 deceased soldiers pictured, 12 died in non-combat situations, or a least were not an enemy target. The twelve included three whose cause of death was disease or heart attack, a possible suicide, a helicopter crash and a murder by another guy in uniform. So they died while in the military, but maybe not “serving” the country. My sample is limited to this newspaper page; I understand that may taint my analysis.
But if you read the papers you know the death while on-duty is not the only measure of service. And people trained to kill in war — even if they may have had some vaguely heroic acts on the record — continue dying after their discharge. Veterans have high rates of homelessness, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress syndrome and other mental struggles, and acting out violently as they were trained.
I avoid militaristic ties in my life. I looked the other way when a pilot said that Pearl Harbor was in view out the plane window; I ride a longer route on my bike to evade the hideously martial WWII memorial. (I am aware of some exceptions: I have visited The Lincoln Cottage, which is on the grounds of a military retirement home.)
Today I rode along Military Road in Washington, DC, on my way to a peaceful walk with a friend in Rock Creek Park. I wish that could be the most warlike thing any of us would do. The real war heroes are the ones whose words and actions oppose it.
Photo above of a dovecote in St. Fagan’s National History Museum, Wales, UK, by me, September 2014.