The Transylvania Times -

Veterans: Now And Tomorrow


Last updated 11/9/2020 at 3:43pm

On Wednesday, Nov. 11, at 11 a.m., many Transylvanians will gather in front of the county courthouse to honor our veterans. Similar scenes will take place across the nation. We should use this time not only to honor our veterans but also to reassess the status of veterans and active military personnel in the U.S. today.

Veterans are a shrinking demographic. As the population of the U.S. increases, both the percentage and actual number of veterans have decreased. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of veterans declined by almost one-third from 2000 to 2018. In 2000, there were 26.4 million veterans. By 2018, the number had declined to 17.9 million. About 7 percent of our adult population has been in the armed services.

This decrease was not unexpected. Hundreds of thousands of veterans from World War II and Korea have died since 2000. Unless there are major military conflicts within the next 10-15 years, the numbers of veterans most probably will decrease further. Fifty percent of our veterans are over 65. Vietnam veterans, many of whom were drafted, make up the largest percentage – 35 percent – of today’s veterans.

With the institution of an all-volunteer military and the lack of an imminent military threat to the U.S., there are fewer Americans in the armed services. Since Sept. 11, 2001, less than 1 percent of the adult U.S. population has served in the military. According to a 2011 Pew Research Center Study, “Not since the peacetime years between World War I and World War II has a smaller share of Americans served in the armed forces.”

Those Americans who do enlist do not represent a cross-section of American society. As retired Major General Dennis Laich and retired Col. Lawrence Wilkerson wrote in 2017, the “1 percent does not come primarily or even secondarily from the families of the Ivy Leagues, of Wall Street, of corporate leadership, from Congress, or from affluent America...” Our military personnel come from less affluent, more rural areas and a disproportionate number are racial minorities. Racial minorities comprise 24 percent of our population but 33 percent of our military.

The combined facts – that 93 percent of Americans have no firsthand knowledge of being a member of the military and the 1 percent of Americans now serving in the military do not represent a cross-section of American society – can result in ignorance, ambivalence and neglect.

Since so few Americans have military experience, it is difficult to truly understand what it means to serve and be in combat. That lack of experience can be mitigated by becoming knowledgeable about veterans and military affairs. Unfortunately, as we have seen with COVID-19, millions Americans apparently are not concerned about things that do not impact them personally. The seemingly endless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which began in 2001 and 2003, have had little affect to no affect on most Americans unless they or members of their family have participated in those conflicts. Ask Americans today what the status of U.S. troops are in both those countries and the vast majority would not know.

As result of this ambivalence, many of the issues facing veterans and military personnel have been neglected. Since the vast majority of military personnel have no personal connection to the levers of power – Wall Street, Congress, etc. – they are more likely to be neglected. Far too often they have been sent into questionable conflicts without the proper equipment and if injured, either physically or psychologically, too often received inadequate care or support when they’ve returned home.

It should be incumbent upon us to become more familiar with foreign affairs so that we do not become involved in protracted or unnecessary conflicts. We need to be more supportive of diplomatic efforts, for one of the best things we can do for our military personnel is to make sure we have exhausted every other avenue in reaching a resolution before we send them to fight and die. And if diplomacy does fail, then we need to ensure our national leaders are providing our military with the proper equipment and support, and they have clear, ultimate goals. And we need to make sure both those now in service and veterans receive the benefits and support they deserve for their willingness to serve as protectors of our country. By doing those things, we would be truly honoring our veterans, both present and future.


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