This is not a post I wish to write for a lot of reasons. Mostly it has to do with the fact that I recognize that my opinions here are not in line with the average American and that I have loved ones and friends who will and have disagreed with me in part or in whole. I don’t wish to insult, cause pain, or infuriate those I care about, but important issues do not benefit from pretending they don’t exist.
This all started, or should I say restarted for me with an editorial I read in the NYTimes yesterday which I urge you to read carefully here. It refers to the fact that some veterans really don’t appreciate being thanked for their service and that opens a whole can of worms for me.
Because this promises to be long, and you deserve to understand from whence my opinions germinated, let me go back to the beginning.
War is not something new of course but is as old as human relationships. As we gathered into groups, we inevitably? found war as the way to solve issues between groups. I question the word inevitable since the jury is still out as to whether we are innately prone to solve our problems this way or not. Suffice it to say, we’ve taken the easy way out, the simplistic approach since we began to record our lives as “civilized”.
I am of that generation whose grandfathers were eligible to fight in the “war to end all wars” and our fathers fought in the conflagration known as WWII. Those were both “righteous” wars by all accounts, fought from a necessity we all accepted. My father was a WWII vet and so was my closest uncle. I assumed, without actual knowledge that all of my friends fathers were veterans too. I to this day don’t know which were and which weren’t.
The generation of my father did not talk much of war, it was indeed their overarching psyche not to. My father did not belong to veterans groups for the most part. But the country did take its responsibility to take care of its vets very seriously. The GI Bill followed quickly at the end of the war, and that was accompanied by a social security law that ensured a decent old age. Unions rose dramatically in the years following and with them came salaries that paid a living wage, and pensions to bolster that social security. Veterans once in positions of power made sure their health care needs were met with Medicare in the sixties.
These efforts, directed at least in large part to show our thanks to veterans was shared by most people and embraced. Republicans lagged behind in these efforts, but even they soon were loath to not support them as well. Such happens as the result of righteous wars.
This is what it meant to “support our troops” back then.
I grew up watching war movies, at least until about the age of 15 or so. I had no particular feelings about war other than that they were sometimes necessary and that that men did some scary stuff that I was glad not to do.
Vietnam was “my” war in that I came to adulthood during it. Quickly we came to realize that it had none of the clean lines of demarcation. From the beginning it was mired in questions. It would take years if not decades before we saw it clearly. America had been on the wrong side. Ho Chi Minh was in fact the hero, and America had been propping up a corrupt puppet government that as usual was supported for “doing our bidding.”
We would go on to do similar if less costly (to us) interventions in South America.
I ended up by the time I was nineteen or so supporting draft dodgers and draft card burners and marching on an occasion or two to stop this war. I read books about war, Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead, and Aristophanes Lysistrata. Later I read Colonel David Hackworth’s About Face: The Odyssey of An American Warrior.
I was forever changed in my opinions regarding war. I see them today as but temporary fixes that contain the seeds of new wars, and that this posture is endless. I see them as the easy solution when we are not brave enough nor thoughtful enough to do better.
I don’t pretend to be a total pacifist for I recognize that unbridled naked aggression must be met with more than words. But at the same time I’m not sure what the standards should be for determining “just” war. I do believe it should be the last resort rather than the first. I recognize as well that no soldier can hide behind “orders” to justify his/her behavior in a war theatre and thus don’t buy the “war is hell, never question what they did.”
We live in a polarized time where some try to reserve patriotism to themselves. They do this by defining some rather strange things as patriotic. It ends up being words more than behavior in my opinion. Sarah Palin explained to us that people who don’t wear flag pins aren’t patriotic. That is surely an opinion I suppose, but hardly one I want to identify with.
Politicians all wear flag pins, and often spout the words “support our troops”. Plenty of people fly flags as if this is patriotism. If you know me you know I do not relate to any of this.
Borders seem artificial constructs of humans designed to preserve resources mostly. In my view, the future can only result in a remove of such artifices and the institution of policies that favor use of shrinking resources for the benefit of all humanity. World government must inevitably replace nation states.
Thus to me, reliance on archaic terms such as national pride and homeland and so forth serve only to point out our differences rather than seek our commonality. Supporting our troops, more the banner of the politician, ends up being nothing more than a call for a larger army with more armaments. I find it all decidedly unhelpful in a world that shrinks daily and becomes more intricate.
During my war crisis (Vietnam) we knew that most of the boys sent to fight the designated enemy were not there by choice. The draft is no more, at least not now, and so perforce I must admit that all soldiers are soldiers by choice today. But they are far from being all the same.
Some are there through a genuine desire to “fight for our way of life and to avenge those who kill Americans.” I can appreciate their actual belief, however short-lived it may be, as heartfelt. One can, I suppose, thank them for their belief, however wrong it may be to some of us.
Some are there because life circumstances offers them little in terms of a future. Poor boys and girls find themselves with few options to a better life, and the service has always held out that carrot of education and training as a way out of poverty.
Some were raised in the tradition or not, but feel that all things being equal, this is a good career choice. And that of course is their right.
Others are there because the other option was jail.
I am told, but do not know, that in the midst of battle, soldiers fight not for country or “so that you don’t have to” but solely for each other, as the series Band of Brothers pointed out so well. Such emotions are no doubt noble and right to those who face death.
But since I am not of the persuasion that most wars are necessary, and certainly not these wars of late, I find myself in some quandary about what this thanks is for. Why should I thank the one who deliberately chose to do this thing that I do not agree with? For in the end, wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq arguably have made life here in the US more dangerous rather than less so. Simply the number who hate us has grown exponentially.
There is a movie I believe called What if They Gave a War and Nobody Came? It became a popular slogan during Vietnam. One must ask, what if? It might be that the government would re-institute the draft, but Vietnam proved how powerful a populace can be when it sets its mind against the will of a warmongering government. So is it not legitimate for me to argue that you have no right to expect my thanks for doing what I deem ultimately doing more harm than good, both to my country and to untold other human beings?
Why should I thank you for doing what you chose to do for your own interests (which I may or may not sympathise with) and which harms what I perceive as legitimate goals of this country?
And who are you to complain of me? The ones who will most vociferously are those who wave flags, wear pins, and speak of supporting our troops. You are also the same ones who support your local congressperson in voting no for food stamps, improvements in the VA and veterans benefits and unemployment benefits. Yet, significant percentages of veterans need food stamps, and they comprise something like twenty-five percent of our homeless. The VA is unable to adequately care for the tens of thousands who return wounded or who like my husband retain injuries not obvious to the casual observer. Yet you do not “support” them in these tangible ways.
So please save your criticism and look in the mirror at your own failings. As the writer of the NYTimes editorial said, you can’t get off the hook for you utter lack of being involved in war by such a simple trite means. Face the fact that unless you or yours was an actual soldier, you haven’t suffered one second for all this killing, and you haven’t thought about it either, other than to issue forth your platitudes.
Some of us bewail this killing, and the victims are not only Americans but Afghanis and Iraqis just for starters. The list gets longer as we have to also bear some responsibility for the killing done by Middle Eastern peoples to each other because of our meddling throughout the region. And we sit in our homes and schools and places of work and dine on steak and watch football, and all the other niceties of life in America while millions suffer for what is being done in our name and in the name of those we support.
We have reaped the whirlwind and now face a group of men and women who have no fear of dying to bring about an ideology they believe in no matter how insane it actually is. And if we don’t come to some equally compelling ideology to counteract it, we will find ourselves ill-equipped to save humanity from itself.
It is clear what the war hawks are selling. It’s what they have sold since the days of Thermopylae. The question is will we ever see beyond the spear, the catapult, the tank, the bomb and the sniper?
I’m not asking you to agree with me. I’m asking you to dialogue. This is the human conversation that needs to be held. I am offering no solutions because I don’t have them. But I do believe that we owe it to our children and their children to make the attempt.
All I can do is promise a veteran this: I will honor every dead man and woman killed by war. I will vote for every improvement in VA services and benefits. I will do my best to find real solutions to hunger and housing, and will vote AND PAY TAXES to support public assistance to all in need. I will vote in elections to support peaceful solutions over war. And I honestly truly am deeply sad for your suffering whether it is apparent to all or hidden in the recesses of your mind. I will be a voice for the voiceless. I will seek to help make all boats rise.
We are better than this. We have to be.