It’s Memorial Day as I write this. I recently retired from the US Air Force after 20 years and 20 days of service. I’ve been thanked by my friends, or people whom knew I served, for my service. I thank them for the sentiment, but also explain to them that my day is Veterans Day, and that Memorial Day is for those who have died in service to their country. To a lot of civilians, the dates are interchangeable. But that is not why I am writing today.
Today I want to talk about intolerance. Specifically intolerance on this day of days. All over the internet I see messages of support for the troops and those who served. A lot of flag waving, Americana, amber waves of grain and the like. Having served with them, I too give my love, support and thoughts for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
But I also get angry. Very, very angry at those who wave the flag for the troops one day, then spout slurs of race, sexuality, and religion the next.
I cannot speak for all those who have served and died and I will not try.
But I will say for myself, as a veteran and hopefully for those who serve(d), we did so in defense of our country, the Constitution, and the citizens, who are all entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. So while I thank those who support the troops, wear the yellow ribbon, and showcase their appreciation through bumper stickers, I have no tolerance for some of those same American supporters who say words like “fag,” “nigger,” “dike,” “spic,” “raghead,” and “chink” with impunity and hatred.
Yes, the same constitution I defended gives you the right to say such things. But please, allow me to exercise my same constitutional right to respond.
Within the military, there are people of all genders, sexual orientations, races, and religions, and I’ve had the privilege of serving with them, including those whom certain people put down, vote against, hate, undermine, and ignore. Those people supported this country. Some of them died to protect racist, sexist, bigoted pieces of shit who spout hatred along with sentiments like “’Murica! Love it or GTFO!”
According to a June 2014 Time magazine article, 71% of American youths between 18-24 years old could NOT meet the military’s physical and academic standards. Only 1% are qualified and interested in the armed forces.
Another way of looking at it is like this: The US is 300 million-plus citizens. The US military has approximately 1.4 million personnel, which is 0.4% of the population. Including the reserves, the total number of US service men and women bumps up to just over 3 million personnel. So, about 1% of the population can serve, and is willing to serve. 1% defending the other 99%.
So when I hear the racists and the bigots spout their rhetoric, I wonder: Could they even qualify and serve like I did. Or perhaps like those “fags,” “niggers,” “dikes,” “spics,” “ragheads,” and “chinks” did and do on a daily basis? They passed the mental and physical exams. They pushed themselves to excel, to learn and to lead. They were all willing to put their duty to their country before their own needs. Or even before their own lives.
Can those who spout hatred say the same?
Is the military perfect? No. It is not a utopia, and it too suffers from internal strife and scandals. But it also succeeds day to day as people set aside personal and political agendas to get the job done, complete the mission and go home.
Intolerance is taught. It is learned. Therefore, it can be unlearned. I hope for the day when tolerance, if not acceptance, is the norm. You don’t have to approve of everyone and everything. You don’t. But tolerance is an achievable goal. Tolerance for all, by all.
And to be clear, this message is not just aimed at one group. It is wide net, for all those who entrench themselves in sociopolitical echo chambers.
I would like to end with a song, Broken Hymns by The Dropkick Murphy. A song about Civil War soldiers fighting, and dying. Those who came home in railroad cars, and those in the last car who came home on coffins. Listen, or don't. But never forget those who fell.
Happy Memorial Day to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. We stand because you fell, and that sacrifice will not be forgotten, no matter who you were.