“When can their glory fade? O the wild charge they made! All the world wondered.”
Veterans Day. Memories of past wars, forgotten battles, fallen comrades all surge back. But what is the true significance of the day? Does it transcend the sacred ranks of those who served, and their families, to reach the wider population? Does it matter?
It does. It matters to veterans. It matters to the community. It matters to politicians and policymakers.
First, it matters to veterans and their families. This is a day when their sacrifices are recognised and appreciated. Nowadays, thanking one for his or her service has become commonplace. But that was not always the case. Vietnam veterans, most notoriously, were shunned — if not abused — for serving their country. Politicians, on the other hand, would escape mostly unscathed. Leading from the front, right? The British have a saying that describes this ignominious situation: “Play the ball, not the man.”
It also a day when old comrades-in-arms walk among us. For just a day, they live.
Second, it matters to the community. The day’s significance transcends the ranks of warfighters and enters into the hearts of every community, no matter its political affiliation. For at least one day, it matters not if one is a Democrat, Republican, Labour, Tory. War does not distinguish.
Moreover, the day and the surging memories it brings to the fore provides the everyday man, woman, and child with countless examples of valour, perseverance, integrity, loyalty, selflessness. Be it the impossible courage that the six hundred cavalrymen of the Light Brigade displayed in their forlorn charge; be it the young Marines who refused to retreat and then charged against the entrenched German lines in the Battle of the Belleau Wood; be it the outnumbers and outgunned Paras in the Battle of Arnhem who fought on, surrounded, until exhaustion. Drawing courage from these, and countless more instances, ordinary people are empowered to live better and more productive lives.
Third, it matters to politicians and policymakers. It is perhaps the only day when the human cost of combat emerges from the history books and assumes a corporeal importance. By understanding the impact of geopolitical decisions to one’s fellow citizens, politicians and policymakers would be more prudent in exercising their power. Granted, those who do not wish to learn, will not. But there is hope that some will.
Further, one is encouraged to examine past decisions that ultimately led to wars. A careful study of the causes behind past conflicts, and the alternatives, is always a powerful tool to in one’s toolbox, especially if one could be faced with a similar situation in the future.