Veterans Day, patriotism, military, peace
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

As flags fly on Veterans Day, let's rethink how we observe this holiday.

If you attend any Veterans Day ceremony in the United States, you'll likely see many of the same things. Military personnel in uniform. The Pledge of Allegiance recited and/or the National Anthem played—perhaps even by a military band. Speeches celebrating American freedoms and expressing gratitude for the people who defend them. Salutes and patriotism and pomp. Flags, flags and more flags.

What do we rarely see or hear anything about on Veterans Day? Building peace. And frankly, that's weird.

It's particularly weird considering where this holiday came from. Originally commemorated as Armistice Day marking the end of World War I, November 11 was a day dedicated to the cause of world peace in addition to honoring veterans who served in the war. Congress's 1926 resolution establishing the legal holiday read in part [emphasis mine], "…it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations."

Over the decades, it seems the focus of the holiday has shifted away from "exercises designed to perpetuate peace," toward exercises designed to glorify our armed forces. We don't talk about building peace on Veterans Day. We use militaristic language to talk about "defending our freedoms," painting the whole picture with a patriotic brush that tugs our red-white-and-blue heartstrings.


It's additionally weird to see such a focus when I think about some of the combat veterans I've known. The family member who refused to talk about his time in Korea. The friend who flinched at fireworks and still couldn't stand the sound of helicopters decades after serving in Vietnam. The friend, a few years younger than me, who shut himself in a closet and shot himself in the head after multiple tours of duty in Iraq.

Their sacrifices were real and should be acknowledged. But so should the reality of why they were called to make those sacrifices. Were those wars actually fought to defend American freedoms? Are the sacrifices of our veterans—with their mental health, with their families, with their lives in some cases—always worth it?

We don't dare say no. To some, it might seem disrespectful—downright blasphemous, perhaps—to even ask the questions. But we owe it to the veterans we honor to consciously weigh the cost of war—and conversely, promote the cause of peace—in our observances of this holiday.

That's the message Veterans for Peace has for all of us. Founded in 1985, Veterans for Peace is a global organization of military veterans and allies with dozens of chapters and five stated goals: To increase public awareness of the causes and costs of war, to restrain governments from intervening in the internal affairs of other nations, to end the arms race and eliminate nuclear weapons, to seek justice for veterans and victims of war, and to abolish war as an instrument of national policy.

These veterans also want to reclaim Armistice Day.

"Veterans For Peace has taken the lead in lifting up the original intention of November 11th—as a day for peace," states the organization's website. "As veterans we know that a day that celebrates peace, not war, is the best way to honor the sacrifices of veterans. We want generations after us to never know the destruction war has wrought on people and the earth."

The call of Veterans for Peace is reminiscent of five-star general President Dwight D. Eisenhower's statements about war: "I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity," he said in 1946. And in 1960, he said in the opening session of the White House Conference on Children and Youth, "In this hope, among the things we teach to the young are such truths as the transcendent value of the individual and the dignity of all people, the futility and stupidity of war, its destructiveness of life and its degradation of human values."

Our veterans deserve to be honored. They also deserve to have their experiences recognized as the genuine tragedies that they are, not glossed over or dressed up for the sake of national pride and patriotism.

Let's ask ourselves: Are our young people getting the message that war is stupid and futile at the same time they are taught to place their hands on their hearts and pay respect to our veterans? Are we explaining to young people how high the suicide rate is among military personnel—and why—when we take them to military parades? Do we share with them, as they witness the pageantry surrounding this holiday, that Veterans Day isn't meant to be a badge of glory pinned to our nation's chest, but rather an acknowledgment of a tragic truth—that humanity has not yet learned that war isn't worth its cost?

As we observe Veterans Day with all the usual ceremonial trappings, let's focus on finding ways to build peace between all peoples and nations as well. The best way to truly honor our veterans is not merely to thank them for their service and then keep sending them into combat zones, but to actively strive toward a future that doesn't need them anymore.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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