“If you can read this, thank a teacher,” reads a popular bumper sticker, with some versions adding: “If you can read it in English, thank a veteran.”
After millions of Americans went to the voting booth last Tuesday to exercise one of their most cherished rights, we should pause and remember those who help make it possible. Simply having rights isn’t enough. They must be defended, often at great personal cost. And it’s the members of our armed forces, past and present, who put their lives on the line every day to do just that.
How fitting, then, that Election Day occurs so close to Veterans Day. The actual holiday falls on Nov. 11 every year. Why that day? Because Nov. 11, 1918, marked the end of World War I, a four-year conflict that brought an appalling loss of life for many countries, including the United States. Having Veterans Day tied to what was once called the “Great War” seems appropriate. Many of our veterans, after all, made great sacrifices to keep the flame of freedom burning brightly.
Initially, in fact, the holiday was known (until a declaration by Congress in 1954) as Armistice Day. Broadening it to include all veterans, however -- not just those who had served in WWI -- has enabled Americans of each generation to thank not only the warriors of past wars, but those who have served more recently. It’s obvious that we owe a debt of gratitude not only to those who fought against Hitler’s Germany and Imperial Japan, but those who risked all in Korea, Vietnam, the Middle East and other hot spots.
Recall, too, that all who have enlisted since late 2001 have done so knowing we’re at war, and understanding that combat experience is likely. These volunteers are the cream of the crop. It’s amazing, really, that such a small group of people is able to accomplish so much. Less than 1 percent of our country’s population serves in the military, yet the U.S. projects power worldwide.
There’s another reason we should be thanking members of the military whenever we vote: Shamefully enough, we’re exercising a right that some troops were denied this year.
More than 200,000 military personnel are serving overseas. Yet thanks to election rules under both political parties, many of them were unable to vote in party caucuses in several states that held caucuses instead of primaries in 2012, including Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada, Minnesota, Colorado, Iowa, Utah, Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Wyoming, Alaska, Washington, Florida, Missouri, Maine and Michigan.
What irony. Here we have Americans putting their lives on the line every day, and they can’t cast a ballot to select their own party's nominee for commander in chief? They have no say in deciding who will have the ability to deploy their services around the world?
Unfortunately, this wasn’t a one-time thing. “Military voters have long been disenfranchised, both at the state and federal level, by a voting process that fails to recognize the unique challenges created by a military voter’s transitory existence or the delays associated with delivering an absentee ballot to a war zone halfway around the world,” writes Hans von Spakovsky, a former member of the Federal Election Commission. We need to fix this -- and ensure that it never happens again.
So let us “remember those who were called upon to give all a person can give,” as President Reagan said in a speech at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1988, as well as “those who were prepared to make that sacrifice if it were demanded of them in the line of duty, though it never was.” Most of all, he added, “we remember the devotion and gallantry with which all of them ennobled their nation as they became champions of a noble cause.”
And if you wore an “I Voted” sticker on Election Day? Thank a veteran.