Today is Veteran's Day. That it's both 11/11/11 in the US and 11/11/11 in Europe is entirely coincidental.
What is Veteran's Day? It started as Armistice Day celebrating the end of the War to End All Wars. Then, the next War came along. And then a few more that weren't quite so big but just as dangerous for those who fought in them and left widows and orphans and childless parents just as much.
So, what was a day to remember those who fought one war has since become a remembrance for the veterans of all the wars fought since 1775. (Lexington and Concord happened in 1775 and we mark those as the American Revolution. The country's a tad older than we claim.)
It is a good time also to think about where we are as a country. To consider what we've got and how we got it.
We live in a country with some seriously divided politics. Lots of people are more than a little concerned that the President of the United States is more than just a bad President. They're concerned that he will ultimately undermine the freedom and liberty that we've had for over two centuries.
Other people are holding long-term protests that started because of the excessive power held by the wealthy in this country. It's hard to say if that's still the focus, but that was the starting point.
Here's the rub: most of the first group? We own guns. A few own lots of guns. The second group? In many cases, like in Little Rock, the police negotiated with them to relocate their protest after a few days because of the law.
Now, there's some kooks in the first group that have planned and attempted wrong-headed things with their weaponry. And some kooks in the second that have done damage and are really just anarchists in disguise.
But in the long run, the first group is waiting until November 2012 and January 2013 to have a new President. Rather than organizing militias on the square as our Founding Fathers did, we're looking at the varied candidates and seeking to get the votes to correct what we see as the wrong direction.
The second group is, really, out for the same thing. They want the people they support, that they elected to stand for the principles that were claimed in the election. And the governments that they protest? They've negotiated, conversed, and only had isolated incidents of excessive (but still non-lethal) force. True, there have been places that the whole protest has gone crazy and government response has been more forceful, but in general: the NYPD hasn't cleared Zuccotti Park with machine guns and bayonets.
And it is because of the veterans that have fought from Lexington and Concord down through the ages, the ones who stand guard at the DMZ in Korea, the ones who seek the enemy in Afghanistan, and the ones who put the supply lines together from bases here at home. From the Rangers at Pointe du Hoc to Merrill's Marauders, to the 54th Massachusetts and to the Marines that stormed Tripoli, the Berlin Airlifters and the Navy SEALs, Minutemen and Minuteman Missile troops.
Because of these men and women, from draftees to volunteers, A1Cs to Fleet Admirals with Lance Corporals and Captains between, we get to fuss and fume in this country. We complain about the cost of running water or the stagnation in Congress or that it's too hard to be a millionaire or that the 99-week unemployment has run out.
And darn few of us go to prison for it. Mostly it takes actually doing something damaging to go to prison. Fewer still are killed for it. We actually have "Riot Police" in America that deploy with big shields and tear gas and sticks. Other countries? They put their army in the street with tanks and machine guns.
Their so-called presidents cause opposition leaders to disappear. Their peaceful gatherings are not negotiated with but gunned down.
So, from the Tea Party to the Occupy Wherevers, from the GOP to the Democrats, from the Libertarians to the Constitution Party, from Americans United for the Separation of Church and State to the Theocracy Movement, let's try something today:
Set it aside. Thank a veteran. Thank a lot of veterans. Think about what they have lived and died to put in front of us all: the freedom to disagree and to guide a nation peacefully. And let's do it. We are capable of finding a way.
After all, if a group of odd-assorted riflemen in Massachusetts (who has guns in MA now?) can release freedom, if it can defended from enemies foreign and domestic, and if it's worth cheering the hope of freedom around the world, should we not be striving to make it work here?
Let's do this. Blood was spilled, lives were lived that we could. Do we dare spit on the opportunity we've been handed?
I dare not.