We remember the veterans -- usually men who when they were boys or very young men were sent to a faraway hell on earth to maim and kill and hope to survive the carnage. We honor their service and remember the dead and try to reconcile the faded monuments from the Great Army of the Republic who defeated a slave-owning Southern empire and the very old men who defeated an alliance of genocidal nations in the Second World War with the younger veterans who were sent to Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan with more ambiguous results.
We hear the stories of war, if we want to hear them. They aren't pretty or comforting. They are often senseless and brutal. They are often kept from us. My wife's grandfather would lose his smile and his eyes would lose their focus when he talked of the Pacific. Butchery. Savagery. Scars of the soul that never heal.
We see the movies about the war in Iraq and they rivet us. For an hour or so. And then we can shrug them off and award the director wearing a gown and the actor in a tuxedo for their work. We can forget the fear after the film. But they can't forget.
We honor veterans more than any other government employee: more than police officers, more than firefighters, more than teachers. We elevate them to an unreasonable pantheon: our heroes. We upbraid those who don't sufficiently honor them with health care or employment. We do this because of what we do to them.
We tell them to kill in our name.
We wage war. We do. We have too much.
We can do better.