National Review Online | 11.11.01
By Alan W. Dowd
Until 1954, Veterans Day was known as Armistice Day. We celebrate it on November 11 because that date marks the signing of the armistice that ended World War I. It wasn't until after World War II and Korea that both the definition and name of the holiday were changed to honor all of America's veterans. Under normal circumstances, the holiday is overlooked by most Americans. But these aren't normal circumstances. September 11 has taught us a new and hideous definition of war. And it has forever changed the definition of veteran.
In his first wartime address to Congress, President Bush warned that the conflict into which America was drawn on September 11 would be "unlike any other we have ever seen." Of course, we didn't need to be told this war would be different. That much was clear when an airliner slammed into the WorldTradeCenter's north tower. Two months later, the anthrax blitz has re-reminded us that this war is carrying us deep into uncharted waters.
Before September 11, our enemies made war by sinking the Lusitania, torpedoing Pearl Harbor and blockading Berlin. They had flags to capture and territory to occupy. And although they bloodied America's sons, they never laid a hand on the homeland. However, we enjoy neither the pretense of conventional war nor the illusion of invulnerability today. The first was ripped away from us when a swarm of passenger planes turned against our cities. The other disappeared in a flash of flame and a shower of shrapnel. From that moment forward, America itself has been on the frontlines of war.
If the battleground and parameters of war have changed, so has what's expected of the average American. President Kennedy believed that "each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty." His generation answered the call by marching off to Africa, Europe, and the Pacific's mosaic of islands and reefs. More than 400,000 would never return.
On the home front, the wives, sweethearts, and sisters of America's fighting men answered by donating metal and tin, giving up their nylon stockings, making do with bald tires and meatless Mondays, and rationing gasoline. But they also formed an army of their own to operate and man the country's armament factories. They would be as critical to the war effort as the men in uniform.
In 1938, the United States had virtually no defense industries. By 1943, America's wartime industries were churning out two times as many weapons as Germany and Japan combined. The productive capacity was nothing less than jaw-dropping — 24,000 tanks in a single year, 4,000 planes a month, a new ship every 10.3 hours.
Now it is our turn to answer the country's call. But in this strange, new war, we are asked to answer in strange, new ways. Uncle Sam doesn't want us to conserve and save, but to consume and spend. The president urges us to "visit Disney World and America's other vacation spots." An array of wartime tax cuts is in the works to prime the pump of American consumerism. Automakers, hotels and airlines are offering enticing packages to pry open our wallets and "keep America moving."
There's no military draft; there's not even a push to recruit more troops. And far from hiring a home front army of riveters and arsenal-builders, U.S. industries are downsizing. It seems there's very little the average American can do or sacrifice to help Uncle Sam "Beat bin Laden" or "Tame the Taliban," to borrow the lingo of WWII.
Yet, with terrorists lurking in the shadows and anthrax spores floating through the air, the average American may unwittingly be forced to sacrifice his very life at any given time.
This all-or-nothing war may be difficult to wage, but it can be won. In fact, it is being won every morning that Americans stream into work and cram into skyscrapers, every day we fly on airplanes, every afternoon we open the mailbox. During World War II, Winston Churchill observed that the American soldier was the only man who could laugh and fight at the same time. Today, in our own small ways, we are displaying that uniquely American trait yet again.
In this first war of the 21st century, firefighters and flight attendants, brokers and bankers, letter carriers and secretaries, vacationers and public servants are all in the enemy's crosshairs. They face many of the same risks as soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. And some 5,500 of them have already made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. Like the F-18 pilot and Army Ranger who use bullets and bombs to fight terror half-a-world away, everyday Americans are fighting it too. The military is taking the war to the enemy, while we face down fear and terror here at home. In a very real sense, we are veterans of the War on Terror. Indeed, we are on the frontlines, shoulder-to-shoulder with the Regulars.
We should not be disheartened by this mission. Instead, we should be honored to have the privilege of doing what other generations of American civilians were never asked to do: to fight and perhaps die for freedom.
So on this Veterans Day, follow the example of a veteran — and stand fast.