THE BLOG
11/08/2013 10:27 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Veterans Day: War and Social Numbness

This weekend is Veterans Day weekend. From Sacramento to Portland, Maine there will be parades, backyard BBQs, cakes, and moments of reflection as Americans celebrate everything Veterans and their families have sacrificed for this country over the years. It will be a somber but joyous time of appreciation. Yet even as we remember, reflect, and celebrate, many of us will continue to ignore the problems of military service.

Most recently, Northwestern University's football team planned to pay tribute to our service members, Wounded Warriors, and veterans by playing a November 16 game against Michigan in Star Spangled-themed uniforms splattered with what appears to be fictional blood. After momentous fallout around the insensitivity of the Under Armour design, Northwestern may be rethinking the appropriateness of their decision; but postpartum regret does not excuse the people in the school's athletic department, the head coaches, and marketing, design, and branding executives at Under Armour who all thought this was an appropriate tribute for Veterans Day and Wounded Warriors. How does that happen? Further still, ten percent of the $75 price tag for the uniforms are to be donated to the Wounded Warriors Project. Who decided it was okay to only give a fraction of the income made from the sale of this to the veterans this uniform was supposed to honor?

This tragedy of perception is not limited to the athletic department at Northwestern. For further evidence that our country has a problem, look to the latest series of first person shooter video games and we see these issues of obliviousness repeated. The Call of Duty advertising campaign champions, "There is a Soldier in All of Us." The most recent commercial, entitled "Epic Night Out" offers a group of buddies running through the streets of a dystopian Las Vegas shooting their way through a war zone with Frank Sinatra crooning in the background. A vivacious Megan Fox with perfect hair and a sniper rifle waits atop one of the buildings. One of the young fighters takes time from battling his way through the area to ask, in a flirtatious tone, how she's doing. After quickly pushing him away to shoot down an enemy drone, she breathlessly replies, "Great. Thanks for asking." The commercial goes downhill from there: the fearless foursome fighting in space -- a level players will engage in the game itself -- and ending with the group back in the most desperate version of Vegas in a traditional '80s action movie sequence with the Chairman of the Board hitting the song's climax. The insensitive advertising might sell games, but the images it promotes have nothing to do with being a Soldier. Rather it is purely over-the-top entertainment that, I worry, is making a generation of young minds numb to what real Soldiers are and what they endure. Just as bad, we see examples of this profoundly in the latest Battlefield 4 commercials where young men -- in "debriefs" no less -- recount with excitement their gameplay experiences of knifing opponents to death in firefights after they'd run out of ammunition to do the job properly. And the victory of this war is all at their fingertips, fought without ever having to leave the couch.

These examples seem hyperbolic, like something that a comedic commentary on our contemporary society might air. But this is not commentary. It is real. We have been at war for over a decade. Rather than the pain of this experience making us uneasy, we are becoming increasingly comfortable with the basic ideas of fictitious battle. We treat it as a game without reflecting on the true nature of it.

It should go without saying, one would think, that no reasonable human would see fake blood on a football uniform as cool. Simulated war from the safety of our sofa may be fun, but is it wise to glorify it in this way?

At some point we must all come to understand that, no, there is definitely not a Soldier in all of us. This reflection should drive us to thankfulness that there are real Soldiers out there. That's what Veterans Day should be about. There are men and women who have sacrificed their lives, whose uniforms have been soaked in blood, so that we might have BBQs in our back yards. We must not make light of them. We must remember and be grateful.