The old Armistice Day served as both reminder and warning. A reminder of the sacrifice and carnage of a war that decimated a whole generation of young men, and a warning that armistices bring neither victory nor peace, but may only put off the slaughter till it resumes again. Just as the world war would resume 20 years later. It turned out to be one tragedy in two acts.
Now our premature withdrawal from today's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan begins to bear the same bitter fruit. It's a mistake we didn't make in Europe, where American garrisons have served to preserve the peace for more than half a century now
In a better republic, the kind ancient Athens birthed and bequeathed to the world, all citizens served in war. No distinctions were made. Indeed, the rise of Athenian democracy coincided with the rise of a citizen army. The two were largely indistinguishable -- and should be if all are to be equal. Then there would not be two classes separated from the other, one that has known military service and one that hasn't. And who may be strangers to each other.
Now we have Veterans Day, and the most common phrase heard that day is, "Thank you for your service." What is one to say in response? "You're welcome"? Or maybe "Thanks, but I hated every minute of it," which would be true enough in my case, having a cast of mind thoroughly unsuited to the military life.
I can remember being envious of a boy from VMI who had the next bunk over in ROTC summer camp. An instinctive soldier, he seemed born to the Army green, and could make up his bunk to look occupied -- with an artfully placed pillow here and there -- so any passing officer would think he'd made curfew that night, instead of being out partying. He was both the best partier and the best trooper in the outfit, talents I could never hope to emulate.
But as long as we have selective service rather than the universal kind, a volunteer army instead of one in which all are expected to serve, "Thank you for your service" will have only a perfunctory sound. It certainly did when poor Mark Pryor remembered to use it in one of his debates with Tom Cotton, having earlier made light of his opponent's military record. By then the phrase sounded as empty of content as the replacement of Armistice Day by Veterans Day.
Another confession: Unaccustomed as I am to putting in a plug for the Democratic Party, now would be a good time for all men -- and women -- to come to its aid. For it can be revived, unlikely as its prospects seemed the morning after this year's midterm elections. It may be hard to remember in light of the stunning sweep scored by Republican candidates across the country, including deep in blue territory like Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts. But there was a time not long ago, like 2012, when it was the GOP that was being consigned to permanent minority status -- just a vestigial remnant of a once strong two-party system.
Now the Republicans are back, and it didn't happen accidentally. Because the party's establishment -- Karl Rove, Reince Priebus and all the old crowd -- decided to winnow out the GOP's wild cards, nutcases and assorted embarrassments as early as this year's primaries, and let their party know the adults were back in charge. And that the graybeards -- and the campaign funds they direct -- weren't going to support any more losers. For the party's lunatic fringe had come all too close to becoming its warp and woof, and the results were disastrous. (Remember the likes of Todd Akin and Allen West?) This year's thorough purge of the party was wide -- and effective. As the results this November demonstrated.
Now it's the Democratic Party that's being written off, and a strong two-party system with it. Because without two strong parties, the vital middle of American politics crumbles. Now somebody needs to take control of that other party and revive it, especially its more conservative wing known as Blue Dog Democrats, who have been allowed to wither over the years. They need to be nurtured back to health. Just as the Republican Party's old war horses rallied to bring their party back to respectability.
It can be done if Democrats absorb the lessons of 2014 the way the GOP learned from its defeats two years ago. Those of us who value the two-party system will be rooting for those Democrats out to rebuild their party, not abandon it to the same old ideologues. That way lies nothing but more defeats.