Pausing to reflect on and honor the sacrifice of the American veteran
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One hundred years ago this month, the guns fell silent on the continent of Europe ending what was at the time the most destructive war of the modern age. Less than 60 years after the end of the American Civil War, the carnage of mechanized warfare shocked the world and etched the sorrow of war in the consciousness of all Americans. Tragically, 20 years later the “war to end all wars” became a prelude to the epic suffering of World War II, the largest and deadliest conflict in human history.

The human cost of war for Americans over the last hundred years has been high. Combat operations in World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam, the first Gulf War, and since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks have claimed the lives of more than 623,000 service members with another 1.3 million wounded. We live in the greatest country on earth with freedoms that many desire, and opportunities for all to climb the ladder of success with hard work and character. Yet the costs of defending these freedoms and opportunities have been borne by relatively few. Today less than 1 percent of our population serve in uniform and less than 6 percent of all Americans have stood on the front lines in years past.

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Though the cost of war is high, history teaches us that the only thing worse than fighting a war is losing one. For this reason, the 115th Congress made good on its promise to restore military readiness to ensure we can deter conflict and be prepared to win if deterrence fails. Two years ago, our military was experiencing its worst readiness crisis since the “hollow force” period of the 1970s. Years of chronic underfunding in military aviation and naval readiness carried deadly consequences as maintenance rates declined and accident rates skyrocketed. Our land forces also suffered under these devastating cuts as the number of combat brigades ready to deploy dipped into the single digits. Fortunately, after two consecutive years of adequate funding, our military leaders now tell Congress we have stopped the slide and have begun to turn this situation around.

This Congress also has made good on its promise to improve care for veterans of all generations who have borne the battle. In the last two years we’ve expanded health care choice, brought greater accountability to the VA, and provided additional funding for mental health, opioid addiction, post-traumatic stress treatment, and suicide prevention. The VA is in the process of building a new veterans ambulatory care center in Omaha, through a model of public-private partnership. This is a good start, but hard work remains in the days ahead. 

As a veteran myself, I remain concerned at the historically low number of veterans currently serving in Congress. In the 1970s, three of four members of the House and Senate had served in uniform. Today that number is less than one in five. These numbers are even worse on the congressional staffs where veterans number less than 2 percent; I’m proud that veterans account for more than 35 percent of our staff. Vets work well across the aisle and know that solutions shouldn’t start with the words Republican or Democrat. We believe in solving problems in a civil, respectful way.

Although conflict and violence will always remain a part of the human condition, the scale of death and human suffering in the world today continues to decline steadily in historical terms.  In the seventy-three years since the Japanese surrender on the deck of the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, the world has experienced an unprecedented absence of great-power conflict. Amidst the daily headlines, we should take a moment to reflect that we are fortunate to live in one of the longest periods of peace and prosperity in human history. This “long peace”, a phrase first coined by historian John LewisJohn Lewis Civil rights icon John Lewis after New Zealand mosque attacks: 'We cannot sow seeds of hatred' Why are Trump and Congress avoiding comprehensive immigration reform? Together, we carry on the age-old struggle for justice for all MORE Gaddis, has in large measure been underwritten by the military power of the United States. On this Veterans Day we should all pause to reflect on and honor the sacrifice of the American veteran that has made this peace possible for so long.

Congressman Bacon represents Nebraska’s 2nd District. He is a retired Air Force Brigadier General and former commander of the 55th Wing at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska.