Today is Veteran’s Day, a national holiday many of us only become aware of when we stop by the bank to find it closed. My generation came of age during a string of tragic wars—Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Somolia, Bosnia, Iraq I, Iraq II, Afghanistan and, last but not least, the Cold War/nuclear arms race. When we think about veterans, what comes to mind is thousands of homeless Vietnam vets and Iraq/Afghanistan vets struggling with the physical and psychological side effects of head injuries and lost limbs. For many of us alive today, World War II is ancient history, and we lack a visceral appreciation of the role U.S. armed forces played in arresting the terrifying spread of genocidal fascism across Europe.
So I’m hitting the pause button for a moment here to try to reconcile the legacy of World War II heroes with the ongoing tragedy of young lives lost to our nation’s unrealistic quest to hang on to geopolitical dominance of the Middle East and its dwindling oil reserves. On a personal level, the current generation of vets is no less “heroic” than World World II vets—they put their lives at risk for a goal they believed was for the greater good of our nation. My criticism centers on the goal, not the soldiers. The goal, it seems, is endless growth for the vast military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned about so long ago. At the same time, the goal involves securing our lifeline to oil reserves. Our entire economy and society depend on it.
With finite financial and natural resources, the United States could choose to grow its clean tech industries, its universities, its public schools. Or it could choose to continue growing its military-industrial complex. Students or soldiers. Solar installers or bomb builders. That’s the choice we face. Transition now to renewable energy or spend the next twenty years fighting over every last drop of oil and scrambling to adapt to runaway climate change. Just how hot do we want our planet to get, and how big do we want our veteran population to become?