President Barack Obama once promised, as a U.S. Senator, to honor veterans of the Cold War, who have never received official recognition and are therefore prevented from full participation in many Veterans Day celebrations. But he never fulfilled that promise–neither in the Senate nor the White House–leaving Cold War veterans in the cold.
This weekend, the Wall Street Journal documented the promise, made in 2006 to Frank Almquist, an Illinois constituent who had served in the Army in the 1980s. A medal for Cold War veterans seemed “appropriate,” Obama wrote, and wrote that he hoped “this impasse can be broken soon.” He never took up the task.
The U.S. has thus far failed to honor those who served in the long struggle against communism, which began almost as soon as the Second World War had ended. Though communist regimes–especially Stalin’s Soviet Union and Mao’s China, and satellites such as Pol Pot’s Cambodia–committed more murders than the Nazis, few Americans are aware of the absolute moral evil that communism represents, or the sacrifices made to stop it.
The fact that the U.S. government has never formally recognized Cold War veterans has meant they have been excluded from veterans’ groups such as the American Legion, which only includes veterans from periods of “hot” wars, regardless of where or how the veterans served. The U-2 pilots who provided essential intelligence; the soldiers who kept watch in Berlin; the sailors who were silent sentinels aboard submarines, tracking Soviet movements, ready to strike–all have gone unheralded, and largely uncelebrated, even on Veterans Day.
It is possible that the reluctance to honor Cold War veterans springs from a political motive. Many on the left opposed the tough line taken against communism by Presidents from Truman to Reagan; many still think of communism as a legitimate alternative economic model that was never given a real chance at success due to western opposition and political failures in implementation. An entire generation of American youth has been educated in the years since the Cold War ended without much idea of how it was fought, by whom, or why.
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