When first we practise to deceive!”
– Sir Walter Scott, “Marmion”
So, Dick Blumenthal (CT Attorney General and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate) lied about serving in Vietnam. And all around, I hear people asking why – why would anyone do that?
The answer’s quite simple, actually: because military service is one of the few things we do that’s universally lauded in our society. Nothing else comes close: not the Peace Corps, not Americorps, nothing.
I’ll be blunt: one of the easiest ways to make me uncomfortable is to thank me for serving in the military. I’ve been out for four years, and it’s been six years since I’ve returned from Iraq, and I still don’t quite know how to react. The reason why is simple: I don’t feel that my military service was extraordinary. I served for seven years. I was a good soldier, but there are many others whose service was much more distinguished than mine.
I’m sure I’m the only one who feels this way. Here’s the thing, though: we exalt military service because it’s utterly alien to how we live our lives, and that’s not good.
There are approximately 312 million people living in the U.S., as of 2008. Of that number, approximately 2.39 million are serving in the military in some capacity – Reserves, Active Duty, National Guard.
2.39 million. That’s 0.076 percent of the population. In other words, the U.S. military is smaller than the city of Chicago. If you limit that to people serving on active duty, it’s even smaller: for example, there are more people in Columbus, OH (798,000) than there are in the active-duty Army (512,000).
We have a self-selected, volunteer military. By and large, that’s worked out well for us. But for whatever reason, we’ve chosen to exalt that kind of service over any other. Ask yourself: when’s the last time you met a firefighter and thanked him for his service? When’s the last time you thanked a police officer for doing the same? My brother’s a police officer in DC (just got promoted to sergeant, by the by!), and I’d wager that he was in greater potential danger serving in the streets of DC than he was the entire year he and I served in Iraq.
Yet, you don’t see people lying about serving as a police officer or firefighter. And part of the reason, I suppose, is because we’ve made a societal decision to exalt that service above all others.
So, no, I’m not surprised that Dick Blumenthal lied about his service. The guy probably didn’t start out lying about it; what I’m guessing is that over the years, things just got out of hand in his retelling (though Viet Nam bears very little resemblance to DC, where he actually served)*. I’m actually not even all that angry about it – the fact that Blumenthal lied about his service doesn’t diminish mine in any way, at least from my viewpoint.
What does make me angry is the fact that we have homeless veterans on the street; that veterans’ unemployment is the highest of any population; that it’s taken years to get veterans like me the compensation we’ve earned. Those things make me angry. And if you want to really, truly thank me for my service, then you can skip the words and actually do something (like what we’ve seen over the past year from VA Secretary GEN Shinseki) to right those wrongs.
*That part just baffles me; I mean, saying you served in Viet Nam when you didn’t is like saying you played NFL football when your career stalled out in high school.