Much of that is gone from here to eternity, in the memorable phrase of James Jones' famous novel. We're much too sophisticated and hip to indulge heartfelt sentiment. More common is the casual contempt for veterans expressed by Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, in singling out returning soldiers as a threat to the peace and good order of the country. "Returning veterans," her department said in that infamous report issued in her name, "possess combat skills and experience that are attractive to right-wing extremists."
This sounded menacing until the fine print revealed no facts, no data, no research to back up the claim that unnamed "extremists" were out to enlist such veterans. The report emerged almost a year after, and FBI investigation found that only 19 veterans from the war on terrorism between 2001 and 2008 actually joined extremist movements. The police might find that many "vegans" and radical environmentalists are out to disturb the peace -- and in fact an animal rights activist has just made the FBI's "Most Wanted" terrorist list.
Unfortunately, the Homeland Security report reflects a pervasive mindset in the Obama administration, which imagines the suspicious nighttime creaks and noises in the wee hours are the sounds of right-wing extremists plotting mayhem. Napolitano's apology, so called, blames the veterans for "misunderstanding" her meaning, which seems clear enough to the rest of us. Seven U.S. senators wrote to her, asking for her evidence of a coup brewing in the barracks, so maybe she will clear up her meaning. I'm not betting on it.
The public was rightly outraged by the exposure of poor medical treatment for the broken and wounded veterans returning to Walter Reed Army Medical Center from what sure seems like war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The outrage should be extended to the remaining covens of disrespect of military service. The ban on ROTC on the elite campuses such as Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Brown and Stanford remains a shame of academe that some are attempting, however belatedly, to redress.
Representatives of both the military and the Ivy League schools meet occasionally to arrive at some kind of reconciliation. Diane Moore, a liberal, pacifist-leaning professor at Harvard, concedes that she misread the military when she was younger and clashed with her father, a World War II veteran. In her maturity, she realizes that her "privileges" were paid for by his "sacrifices."
Larry Summers, a prominent member of the Obama administration, recalled when he was briefly president of Harvard the burst of patriotism that followed 9-11, and hoped it would "reignite our respect for those who wear uniforms." Alas, we're still hoping.