A Veterans Parade that insults veterans for fun harms the "common defense and general welfare"

There is *nothing* my combat wounded father could have done in his life that would earn respect and common decency from some people who think they speak for veterans and patriots.

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I was disappointed, but not surprised, that someone drove a “Let’s go, Brandon” banner as official part of the Lakeland Veterans Day parade in downtown a couple Saturdays ago.

I’m come to expect that kind of provocation and disrespect from the forces seeking to dominate shared or sacred spaces in our communities. And I’ve seen that organizers of those spaces, particularly when it comes to veterans, do little to effectively discourage that behavior morally and patriotically. I’ve observed this in many places, not just the Lakeland Veterans Parade.

Sure, “Let’s go, Brandon” is pretty funny — at least on the surface. Mocking official power is very American and rarely a bad thing. The backstory about the NASCAR race is hilarious.

But military service and honoring veterans is about the common defense of each other. And “Let’s go, Brandon” gets darker when you understand it’s not a jokey code for “F-Joe Biden,” powerful president of the United States. It’s jokey code for “F-you, neighbor” or “F-you, fellow citizen” or “F-you, veteran, who doesn’t vote — or represent community — like we want you to.”

“Let’s go, Brandon” is the new “Lock them up” — a way for one ugly faction of people to share community by menacing people not in that community. This faction does not care about “Joe Biden;” it cares about dominating you and me.

This chanting faction would chant no matter who was in charge — just as long as you and I put that person in charge with our votes and citizenship. “Let’s go, Brandon” works as code for any name. That’s its genius, really. It’s about dominating our common space and seeking to chase the rest us from it.

This drug of dominance is powerful. And sadly, people often pursue its high through the weaponization of veterans against veterans. This is particularly true of those who claim to speak for all veterans. I find they rarely, in fact, make any effort to try to speak with respect to the true, wide spectrum of American veterans.

“All of these people are cherished by the United States”

My family is holding a celebration of life for my parents this weekend. They died within a week of each other in August.

My mother died on August 12, 2021 — 52 years to-the-day in 1969 that my dad was wounded — and nearly killed — in Vietnam near Cu Chi. He walked into a booby trap and ambush while on patrol. An extraordinary new lieutenant saved his life — and saved his marriage and his entire immediate family and its growing branches. Here’s the preliminary telegram my grandparents received:

His injuries were actually worse than that and required extended hospitalization.

When I was in 6th grade, in 1983, I won a Veterans Day essay about my dad and his experience and what I imagined that meant as a little boy. Here I am delivering it as a speech on Veterans Day from steps of the Putnam County Courthouse.

I do not recall anyone at the ceremony or the parade feeling the need to insult my dad and others by weak code for: “F-you, veteran, who doesn’t vote like I want you to.” And here’s the little essay:

My parents kept this for me because they thought it important — and patriotic, I suspect. Key excerpt:

My father has a “Purple Heart.” (an award for being wounded in war) he was wounded when a grenade blew up. If he had been killed I don’t know what my family would’ve done. But, luckily he wasn’t and he’s still alive. He is an example of a disabled veteran. A disabled veteran is someone who has a handicap via the wars. It can be mental or physical, serious or not serious. (my father has a bad leg from pieces of grenade) All of these people are cherished by the United States. Tell me a country that honors one nameless soldier as a hero. The United States honors three.

The last vote this patriot father ever cast was to peacefully remove from power a personally corrupt and vicious, Capitol Lynch Mob-inciting, would-be tyrant who ducked Vietnam as an inheritance baby; trashed veterans as “losers and suckers;” and sought to use the military to overthrow representative government and install him as a mad king. The military resisted this quite heroically in 2020.

But this same would-be boy king wants to try the same thing in years to come; and he’s counting on “Let’s go, Brandon” veterans and service-people to help him. Some are quite eager to do that. Some veterans and police took part in the Capitol Lynch Mob.

I assure you this would-be king thought my father, who could have easily gotten out of a morally-challenging, life-threatening war, was “a loser and a sucker” for going to Vietnam and getting wounded — wounds that affected his entire life and likely shortened it.

I also know the “Let’s go, Brandon” crowd considers my father a loser and sucker for not taking part in their abusive, anti-patriotic “community” during his life. I’ve known this for a long time because I listen and pay attention to what they say and do. I’m not a little boy anymore; and I know this isn’t true and never was:

All of these people are cherished by the United States.

If that were true, the “Let’s go, Brandon” flag-wavers would not have gone out of their way to insult my father’s memory — and the lives of so many other veterans and citizens — with their petty inside joke of vicious community.

They respect his 25th Infantry hat — but him not so much.

The common defense and general welfare

The constitution my father was sworn to uphold at the time of his wounding instructs Congress to: “provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States.” My father took that oath and its emphasis on “common” and “general” deadly seriously his entire life. He suffered for it, in and out of uniform, as did my mother.

Yet, it is the “common” and “general” part that “Let’s go, Brandon” crowd most despises.

And I know there is nothing my father — or millions of other veterans and citizens like my mother — could have done in life to have earned the simple respect of restraint from the “Let’s go, Brandon” crowd and the people who claim to speak for all veterans. There is nothing he could have done that would make the driver of the “Let’s go, Brandon,” vehicle engage of a moment of self-reflection before seeking to dominate public space. Their hatreds consume and blind them so completely that the very idea of common defense and general welfare enrages them if “common” includes all of America.

I wish this was not so.

Indeed, I spent quite a bit of time just before the Veterans Parade handing out small American flags and encouraging people at the Downtown Farmer’s Curb Market and Art Crawl in Munn Park to attend the parade and show respect to our veterans. I was accompanied by a young man who is like a son to us and who is considering joining the military.

It was the triumph of hope over experience; and I now regret encouraging people to attend the parade. Not because veterans do not deserve respect; they most certainly do. But because veterans (and citizens) deserve not to be gratuitously insulted by other veterans or anyone else in deeply unpatriotic ways within our common or sacred spaces.

I feel personally responsible for trusting that parade participants and organizers would take seriously what it means “to provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States.” I had hoped, against all evidence, that the American flags would be more important than the “Let’s go, Brandon,” flag.

I was wrong. And for that, I apologize to anyone I convinced to attend — and to my dad’s memory.

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