At 11:11 on 11/11/11, the red, white, and blue USO float, iced with Andrews-channeling trio The Liberty Bells, inched away from the curb at 24th Street to creep two miles up Fifth Avenue. With 24,999 other patriots, The Free Agent celebrated Veterans Day.
Back before global carnages required a numbering system, there was The Great War. A fairly routine assassination in June of 1914 triggered the worst application of globalization ever–alliances and treaties ultimately dragged 70 million combatants into trenches that entombed an eighth of them. In a way, World War I is its most accurate name, it was a war of the First World: mechanized war, technological war, war in which both sides used chemical weapons, war perfected so that combat finally surpassed disease as the killer of soldiers. On November 11, 1918, the cease-fire ending hostilities on the Western Front was signed, which morphed in Newspeak fashion into a holiday dedicated to world peace, Armistice Day.
The doughboys in Friday’s parade were re-enactors, but real veterans of the Second World War shook hands with well-wishers and blew kisses to the Liberty Bells. These Greatest Generation® vets are better branded than, say, the Korean War vets. But not only does America’s Forgotten War®, which began sixty years ago and which may have forestalled another Roman numeral war, have a better monument on the Washington Mall, veterans of the Republic of Korea’s army marched alongside their US allies. The Free Agent didn’t detect, say, a Belgian presence in Friday’s march, but then Europe may preoccupied with its third suicide attempt within a century.
The soldiers of The Free Agent’s youth, now peculiarly-named Vietnam-Era Veterans®, made their joyful muffler-free presence known in waves of chopper formations called Rolling Thunder®. The FA is not ashamed to admit she wiped more than one tear from her cheek Friday, and one was for the healing of the rift between them and the other veterans. Back in the day, vets from Southeast Asia were sometimes considered insufficiently patriotic by their antecedents. Now they are full members of a fraternity The FA is grateful she will never have to join.
There did not seem to be a float representing the disingenuously-named Spanish-American War, but The Free Agent suggests it should have led the parade, as it led America into empire. We should all Remember the Maine®, not as a casus belli, but as a reminder that whoever is determined to go to war will find an excuse. (She might also suggest re-branding that vainglorious exercise. “America: Too Big For North America”?)
In 1949, the Department of War officially became the Department of Defense. Not one of the veterans in Friday’s parade begrudges his service to his country, but for each of those men and women, a thousand others did not live to march. With Mister Obama’s promise that the Overseas Contingency Operation® will end this year, The Free Agent’s Veterans Day wish is that we treasure the steady supply of those who will risk the ultimate sacrifice, as long as they believe we are truly playing defense.