Where have all the veterans gone?

Rappahannock County government offices and the local bank were scheduled to be closed Thursday, Nov. 11, in observance of Veterans Day. So was the U.S. Postal Service. Thus newspaper subscribers who rely on the mail for delivery of the Rappahannock News have to wait an extra day. (How annoying is that!)

Very few other businesses were expected to close. For them, indeed for most citizens, Veterans Day is a day like any other, meaning business as usual.

This is understandable as veterans represent an ever-smaller proportion of the population. It is not that older generations were necessarily more patriotic or courageous. Certainly, I wouldn’t describe myself that way, even though I’m a veteran.

The reason that I — along with a goodly number of my generational cohorts and our fathers — can call ourselves veterans is very simple: We were drafted! Conscription filled the ranks of the U.S. military in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War — not to mention World War I and the Civil War.

For more recent military conflicts — in Iraq and Afghanistan — America has relied upon an all-volunteer force that represents a very small percentage of the citizenry.

There are plenty of persuasive arguments from policy wonks, a lot smarter than I, about why a professional standing army, as opposed to citizen soldiers, is in America’s best interest at the present time, into the foreseeable future.

Since those are the current facts on the ground, the reaction for a lot of citizens, on finding the bank closed or the newspaper undelivered Nov. 11, is forgetfulness and annoyance. Likewise, many of the nation’s seemingly most bellicose politicians don’t have any personal military history to remember.

It can’t help but make an old — once young and reluctant — soldier like me wonder how our politics (not simply foreign policy) might be different if the country retained some kind of compulsory national service.

Walter Nicklin