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For most Harvard students, Veterans Day meant a day off of class. For some, it meant camping out in the Yard. For very few of us did it mean honoring those who have served.
I will confess—I did not attend any events celebrating the holiday. Yet, this can be explained by the fact that no events were adequately publicized. It took many Google search attempts to come across Harvard’s official Veterans Day 2011 celebration, a ceremony in Memorial Church celebrating the return of the ROTC to Harvard. Even so, this event seems more like a reminder of Harvard’s stance on “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” than a genuine celebration of those who have fought to defend this country. In comparison to the extravagance of Harvard’s 375th birthday celebration or the raucous celebration of Occupy Harvard, Veterans Day might just as well have been another Friday. The one major on-campus initiative to support our veterans was a student-led table at the exit of Annenberg, where students could write thank you cards to veterans returning home. On the one hand, it was refreshing to see the support of all the students who stopped to write letters, yet it is unfortunate that the students outdid the Harvard administration.
The most concerning aspect of the weekend was that, with a day off of classes, the attention of the Harvard community was fixed on those occupying the Yard rather than on one of the most meaningful holidays of the year. What many of us take for granted is that fact that the freedoms we have in this country are only possible thanks to our armed forces. The Occupy protesters, more than anyone, should appreciate these freedoms. The very freedoms upon which the movement is based are made possible by our military.
Most of us studying at Harvard have chosen not to fight for our country. Thanks to the men and women who enlist, we are not obligated to serve even at a time of war. We can study and live our lives exercising the freedoms that are being defended on the front line. What occupiers and the rest of the Harvard community ought to realize is that freedom is not free. The country’s opportunity to thank the men and women who defend those freedoms has unfortunately come and gone with little attention from the Harvard community.
Instead of thanking those who risk their lives to defend our freedoms, Harvard students exploited those very freedoms by occupying the Yard. I believe it is irresponsible for the Harvard community to have focused its attention on a group of rogue students camping out in the yard rather than on the Veterans Day holiday. Even supporters of Occupy ought to recognize the disproportionate amount of attention devoted to the movement at the expense of properly recognizing Veterans Day. Few Americans would argue against Veterans Day being more important, yet, judging by the amount of conversation about Occupy around campus versus that about Veterans Day, Harvard seems to have it backwards.
A personal political or moral opposition to the state of American income inequality does not exclude the Occupy protesters or the rest of the Harvard community from supporting those who have fought for the freedoms we have in this country. America is like no other place on earth; thanks to the freedoms defended by our armed forces, people can do things like occupy the Yard. Maybe the occupiers should spend a little less time victimizing the leaders of Harvard Management Company for their salaries and a little more time thanking those who allow them to express their opinions freely.
This is not about supporting the military. This is not about supporting America’s wars. This is not even about the Occupy movement. This is about showing appreciation for those who defend the freedoms we have in this country. If Harvard wants to stand by the values it holds so dearly, it ought to shift its attention from the tents spotting the Yard to the stars spotting the flag.
Michael A. Silva ’15 lives in Matthews Hall.
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