This past Friday afternoon, I walked around with a “Veterans Count At Yale” sticker, wondering if they really did. I had just left the sparsely attended Veterans Day memorial on Beinecke Plaza, a memorial that felt too lighthearted for what should have been a somber day. The only time we stopped to think about the fallen, aside from brief mentions of the names in Commons, was during the two-minute playing of Taps.
Otherwise, the gathering was a celebration of the military and all the opportunities that it provides citizens. The day came and went without the campus stopping to remember those who had fought for us. As families of veterans visit graves, mourn and grieve, it is only fair for the rest of us to share some of their pain.
It’s true that Veterans Day is only a symbol. Fabric poppies, moments of silence, brass bands — these can only do so much to heal the wounds of war. But the Yale campus feels so far removed from the reality that servicemen and their families face every day. Yale Students for Veterans does exist in Dwight Hall, but its activities are focused around Veterans Day rather than yearlong services. The Yale administration does support veterans at Yale, including Adrian Hale ’17, who gave a moving speech at the Beinecke Plaza service. Still, Yale students can do so much more.
For many of us, our grandfathers served when there was a draft. We are proud of their heroism but believe that the World Wars were unique because they were necessary and just. Some of us may come from smaller towns where our friends are preparing to join or have already joined the military. Others are in military families, ROTC or have already served — a sacrifice that must feel alienating on Yale’s campus. But for the vast majority of Yale students, servicemen in our communities are an anomaly. This lack of diversity leads us to take for granted that we do not have to serve, because someone else will serve in our stead.
For some Yalies, avoiding Veterans Day is a protest against militarism. But this is not an excuse for forgoing the opportunity to memorialize dead soldiers: We can set up our own events, donate to charities that help veterans or reach out to military families in the community who are hurting as they grieve a recent loss.
Believing we are better than war does not give us the right to snub veterans. We protest war, but we don’t dirty our hands with it. Instead, we rely on the Americans who enlist — because in this past century, America could not have become a superpower without its military. We would not be going to top schools, following our dreams, planning our lives out without the security of our defense forces. And our history would not exist as we know it without a war that started it all, a war that ended slavery and a war that freed us from the yoke of fascism.
You may disagree with one or all of these wars. You’re allowed to. Part of our obligation as citizens, especially those of us who go into politics, is to establish a just and peaceful foreign policy. But soldiers are not the government. They do not choose which orders to obey. Consider groups like Veterans for Peace, founded in 1985, or Iraq Veterans Against the War.
You may disagree with the army’s policies toward racial minorities, sexual assault victims and trans people. You’re allowed to. There’s much work to be done, and the government needs our voices to keep our soldiers safe on bases at home and abroad. But soldiers who have died on the frontlines did not design the military courts. They died for the belief that a free, safe and democratic haven was a cause worth fighting for. And even if it wasn’t, they often had no choice.
Ignoring Veterans Day comes from a place of privilege. It stems from a socioeconomic background that allows us all to go to college instead of serving. It arises from growing up without a draft. It comes from being in a generation that exists only because our ancestors fought for our freedom. It comes from living without the pain of losing a family member in the military. Next year, I hope that November 11th will be different.
Daisy Massey is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .