As New York celebrates the Giants’ Super Bowl win over the New England Patriots, some are asking why New York City doesn’t honor veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars with a parade of their own.
A New York City ticker-tape parade is iconic: think of “the kiss,” when a returning World War II sailor dipped a woman and went in for a smooch. The parade signifies immense praise, triumph, and gratification from the rest of America. But there are no plans for a parade for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans any time in the near future — despite the Iraq War coming to an end in December.
This is mind-blowingly shocking. Throw the parade already.
Over the past week, veterans group IAVA has been calling for a city ticker-tape parade for soldiers from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying that “(veterans) deserve a little praise, too.”
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, though, has said that there are no plans for such parade, arguing “I think a parade would be premature while we still have so many troops in harm's way around the world.” Bloomberg cited hesitation from the Pentagon in having a parade for modern veterans while operations in Afghanistan were still on-going. Critics have said that these hesitations are politically motivated and unwarranted, with Leslie H. Gelb, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, telling the New York Times: “Celebrating the Iraqi vets doesn’t negate a future celebration for the Afghan vets or deny that we’re still at war … If we had to wait to honor our servicemen and women until wars were over, that would take a long time.”
Issues facing modern veterans are on the rise, but at the same time seem to be overlooked by the general public.
U.S. military suicides have climbed steadily since 2004. Though only 1% of Americans have served in the military, veterans constitute 20% of suicides in the U.S.
The office of Veterans affairs estimates that a veteran dies by suicide every 80 minutes. These numbers, too, only indicate successful suicides, not suicide attempts.
An alarming number of servicemen and women say they suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Thirty-seven percent of modern veterans say they have PTSD.
Many veterans, too, say their problems are overlooked by the public, with 84% of modern vets saying the public does not understand the problems they and their families face. Post-war life is also difficult for these individuals: 44% of modern vets say they’ve had difficulties readjusting to civilian life.
Life after the military is in fact difficult for these veterans, with veterans aged 18-24 in particular currently experiencing a 22% unemployment rate — almost three times the national average.
A recent Esquire essay may have summed up the tough transition best with an essay titled “I Miss Iraq. I Miss My Gun. I Miss My War.” The simplicities, efficiencies, structure, and benefits of military life – in comparison to civilian life — are all echoed in this essay.
There is a clear disconnect between the American public and our modern veterans — one that may prove to be comparable to the disconnect many Vietnam veterans faced when they returned home. Those Rambo moments, with veterans wondering why they weren’t being accepted back into their communities and claiming that America didn’t understand their unique problems, will very much distinguish our modern veterans if we as a country continue to fail those who fought for us.
Bloomberg himself has often expressed regret for not adequately honoring Vietnam War veterans, who were only given a New York City parade in 1985 — a decade after the Vietnam War actually ended. So what's the hold-up?
Whether you think we shouldn’t have gone to Iraq in the first place, or if you don’t agree with America’s continued involvement in Afghanistan, there remains a strong urgency to rally around our veterans and acclimate them back in to civilian life. These individuals have given their lives to this country. The least we can do is give them a parade.
I’m a downtown Manhattan resident. I’ve been through the circuses that are the 9/11 anniversaries, the Occupy Wall Street protests and Zuccotti Park-NYPD stand-offs, Barack Obama campaign dinners at wealthy individuals’ luxury apartments that close off blocks of sidewalk to pedestrians. Everyone else gets lower Manhattan closed off for them.
If Bloomberg throws a ticker-tape parade for our modern veterans, I’ll be among the first standing in line to applause them. They deserve it.
Throw the parade already.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons