The first thing on most Yalies’ minds waking up today was probably that Biochem midterm today, that foam party last night, or how much we are looking forward to the upcoming Thanksgiving break. Not many of us, I imagine, will wake up, realize that it’s Veterans Day, and spend a few spare moments thinking of those who have served in our military. Even fewer will take the time to attend the annual Veterans Day ceremony on Beinecke Plaza — last year I counted around 30. The fact that we are too preoccupied with our daily lives to remember our veterans is mourned across the editorial pages of America’s newspapers on Veterans Day every year. But here at Yale there is an equally important, but altogether different, problem; at our college there is a subtle but tangible discomfort with actively trying to set aside time to honor our military.
Last year on Veterans Day, I asked my professor if I could step out of seminar a few minutes early to attend the annual Veterans Day ceremony on Beinecke Plaza. His response: asking me whether or not I was a veteran. When I told him that I was not, he asked whether anyone in my family had served in the military. While I am sure these questions were asked offhandedly, I was taken aback by their implication. They implied that I needed an excuse to participate in what Woodrow Wilson called us to do on the first Veterans Day in 1919: “to be filled with lots of pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory.” We don’t need an excuse to walk up to someone in uniform and thank them for their service, or to applaud a group of troops returning home from overseas — not uncommon in my hometown of Minneapolis.
The fact that it is Veterans Day should be more than enough of an excuse — no, opportunity — to honor and remember our veterans. Beer commercials, football games, popular music: almost every niche of our popular culture has been used as a medium to honor our troops. Yet there are clear — if not reasonable — causes for the discomfort that persists on Yale’s campus, even when honoring our soldiers is all but a national pastime: two of the last four wars have been extremely unpopular; some associate open and unabashed demonstrations of patriotism with jingoism; there is a general discomfort with the violence which our soldiers are trained to employ; and our military openly acknowledges a discriminatory recruitment policy.
These are all issues that require attention and solutions where necessary. But whether we like it or not, we have all reaped the benefits of our nation’s servicemen and -women. These policy issues should exist in a different realm than the personal sacrifices of veterans. Things that were and will ultimately be dealt with in the depths of the Pentagon and the recesses of the White House should be cast aside when it comes to giving those who have given up more than I can comprehend the respect they have earned and deserve. If today you neglect to devote a thought to our veterans, the ever-present human problem of taking things for granted has reared its ugly head. If your math problem set and that class you can’t miss prevent you from attending the ceremony on Beinecke, it is just another busy day in the life of a Yalie. But at least feel bad about it. At least put aside your political concerns for the sake of a group of individuals we should honor even more often than once a year.
And if, by some miracle, you manage to squeeze a free half hour into that busy schedule: stand for our troops in Beinecke at noon. I hope to see you there.
Cyprien Sarteau is a junior in Davenport College.