Gerald Seib has a piece in the Wall Street Journal bemoaning the diminishing number of military veterans in Congress. He compares the numbers to those of 30 and 40 years ago — when you had a higher percentage of men in the Capitol, and they were likely to have served (and/or been drafted) during the Vietnam or Korean War, not to mention WWII — and wonders what effect this has on national policy.
In reading it, I thought of the many listeners I’ve talked to who believe that if you haven’t served in the military you’re somehow less of an American. As one who was too young for the draft and never volunteered for service, I find this notion ludicrous. While I have respect for those who serve, and greatly appreciate their making the sacrifice so I didn’t have to, I reject the notion that wearing the uniform somehow puts you on a higher plane as a citizen of this great nation, or makes you more of a patriot.
With so many ways to contribute to this society, why argue over who’s a “better American”? Did the armed forces veteran contribute more than the elementary school teacher, or the cop on the beat, or the operating room nurse, or the legal aid lawyer, or the entrepreneur who created jobs for a community?
Rather than debating patriotism, it’s more important to recognize all of those contributions and, in the case of our veterans, ensure that they’re taken care of properly when their service concludes. From those who come home missing a limb to those who suffer from PTSD to those who return mentally and physically intact, it is incumbent upon our system to guarantee that each of them receives the attention they require.
That’s why the matter of how many veterans serve in Congress is less relevant than how much Congress serves our veterans — and not just on Memorial Day.