My deadline for this column is Tuesday. Ordinarily, that is of little significance, unless, of course, you are my family and you do something particularly noteworthy over the weekend (I’m looking at you, Dustin, and your tendency to hoard coffee mugs). This week, however, my deadline created a predicament.
I needed to write this on or before Election Day, knowing that it will be published after Nov. 8, which could be Armageddon to some or the Greatest Day in History to others.
What to do? I could be tone deaf and write about coffee mugs, or I could write a political prediction and get it all wrong. I didn’t want to do either.
I’ve avoided writing anything about politics this election season. Honestly, I was waiting for one of the candidates to take up the issue of women being required to register for Selective Service, as men have for generations and my sons will do in just a few years, but, sadly, the topic never came up after it was briefly addressed during the primary season.
And actually, nothing else of substance related to the military was addressed, aside from when Hillary Clinton’s improper handling of classified information was compared to stories of military service members going to jail for similar or less serious infractions. That’s all the military got, an asterisk in the argument about a Clinton scandal. In whole, it’s been an election season of personal insults, anger and emotion.
A friend who is exasperated with the election season suggested that I skip politics altogether and write about how retailers are pushing Christmas on us before Thanksgiving and “even before Veterans Day.”
Veterans Day. It’s on Friday. Did you remember? Who is talking about that?
Not only did military issues play a depressingly small role in this year’s election, they play an even smaller role in most people’s lives, including our politicians’.
No matter who’s been elected president by the time this is published, he or she won’t be a veteran. In fact, assuming our new president-elect only serves one term, by 2021, for 28 years the White House will have been occupied for a total of 20 years by someone with zero prior military experience. If the president-elect serves two terms, you can make that number 24 out of 28 years that the United States President has not been a veteran.
Incidentally, that’s not our worst track record. In the 36 years between President Taft’s administration (1909-1913) and the end of Franklin Roosevelt’s in 1945, there also had not been a veteran in the White House.
The obscurity of Veteran’s Day in the midst of Election Day, Black Friday and Christmas, as well as the disappearance of veterans in the White House, is a symptom of a bigger problem, one that I experienced firsthand when our Navy family moved from military mega-centers like San Diego, California; Jacksonville, Florida; and Norfolk, Virginia to live in the northeast. The military has comparatively less presence here, and it’s obvious from the lack of little things—like military discounts at stores or men and women in uniform frequently coming into schools to pick up their children — to the bigger things, like fewer veterans serving in local and state politics.
In fact, according to my youngest son, some of his friends marvel that his dad is “an actual soldier.” He’s not, he’s a Navy pilot, but the point is that some of my son’s peers might not have seen many people in a military uniform before.
This is an issue Defense Secretary Ash Carter addressed earlier this month when he announced new plans to bolster recruiting and increase retention. It’s part of his Force of the Future initiatives.
In a release on Defense.gov, the problem is explained like this: “To draw talent for the all-volunteer force from the entire population pool calls for helping an entire generation better understand who the military is and what it’s about…The department will start by improving how it communicates the value of military life, telling its story in more places, in more ways and to a broader range of audiences.”
In a perfect world, “telling [the military’s] story” would happen from the top down, beginning with a Commander in Chief who is a veteran. In a less perfect world, our elections would give at least equal time to veterans’ issues as they do insults.
In reality, however, I don’t need to know the outcome of the election, and you don’t need to see someone in uniform, in order for me to assure you of this: your military is still there. Elections come and go, but our veterans are still there doing their work.
On this Veterans Day, I hope you will take the time to thank a veteran for that.
— Sarah Smiley is a syndicated columnist.