GUEST OPINION: Lament for veterans
on November 10, 2014
Inegalitarianism, defined as the exclusion of large segments of the population from participation in the socioeconomic and political system despite the language of equality, liberty and freedom, has permeated the U.S. since its inception.
Veterans Day provides the opportunity to reflect on the hundreds of thousands who have perished in battle, suffered wounds or are permanently disabled, which, from my perspective, can only be described as an obscenity of injustice.
Lest we forget, African Americans fought in the Revolutionary War against England even though they received half the pay of whites and their people were held in chattel slavery.
Indigenous people have fought in every war since the Revolution, despite being subjected to genocide as whites took their land by force and violence under Manifest Destiny. In the Civil War, 40,000 African Americans died. After Reconstruction, African Americans — many of them veterans — were betrayed by the federal government and relegated to quasi-slavery as white supremacists assumed control of the South.
During World War I, the war to “make the world safe for democracy” as touted by President Woodrow Wilson (who was blatantly racist toward African-Americans), there was racial violence against African American veterans by white mobs. By some estimates between 1882 and 1951, 5,000 African Americans and 600 Mexican Americans were lynched in public spectacles.
The Second World War was fought behind President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s mantra of the “four freedoms”— freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. African Americans served in segregated units and were discriminated against in federal employment along with Mexican Americans.
While troops were in harm’s way, the U.S. government cut veterans’ pensions and health benefits. There is currently a backlog of 900,000 medical claims. It can take as long as six months to a year to see a doctor. Veterans Administration staff fabricated compliance with medical appointment goals. In the midst of this crisis, V.A. employees received performance bonuses of up to 35 percent. According to the Center for Investigative Reporting, the V.A. has paid out $200 million for 1,000 wrongful death claims.
As we ponder chronic and disproportionate African American and Latino unemployment, misuse of deadly force by police, shorter life spans, disproportionate incarceration rates, health disparities and zip codes where lifespan and health care are triaged by race, class and gender, the outsourcing of jobs, the undermining of collective bargaining rights and low-income and working people confronting the razor wire of economic inequality, a glaring question comes to mind: What did the members of our armed forces sacrifice for?
Our nation should be doing more to honor our 22 million veterans — many of them men and women of color — than having Veterans Day sales, parades and reiterating platitudes about justice and equality.
Leonard McNeil is professor of political science at Contra Costa College and a former member of the San Pablo City Council.
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