A Veteran’s Day Proposal

It’s Veteran’s Day, and I never know what to say about the veterans.

I don’t support the troops, at least not in the fetishistic way most of us seem to. I don’t wish them harm — I wish them home. Back to work, back to school, back to wives and husbands, back to the world of life, and away from the killing fields.Cemetery

I think we’ve been sold a bill of goods, that there must always be war, and we must always be prepared for war, and we must always win at war, because “we” are better than “they.” But we never win wars, not us, not the ones who must fight them, and have our legs and heads blown off. Only the kings and commanders win, and the arms dealers.

Every war, regardless of which side eventually must surrender, begets the next war, and the next. We think it’s so important that we’ll go and get maimed and leave our babies behind, and our mothers, everybody in tears, over some prime minister’s theory, some president’s anger. We go thinking we must, and believing that if we fight fiercely, kill bravely, that it will put an end to war, and make us all safe.

This, of course, is bullshit.

Every war brings us all closer to death, as we develop more and more sophisticated and devastating weapons and techniques, as we humiliate and enrage populations around the world, who then develop their own devastating weaponry and methods. The troops and the veterans? I’m not mad at them. I’m just sick of the constant strife.

Look, we’ve been thinking since the beginning of history that it makes sense to kill for peace, right? What is that, six or seven thousand years? How about if we have a moratorium on this organized mayhem? Let’s say nobody signs up for the military for a hundred years. That seems fair to me. It’s a pretty short stretch of time in the scheme of things, to see if we really need all this violence and hatred.

At the end of that time, there would be no more veterans, no more regimented marching. The daily fear that grips us of someone else’s army would fade. The military cemeteries would be deserted and silent. After decades of rebuilding, the cities of the world would be healed and thriving. Our heroes would be the teachers, the artists, the musicians, the scientists, the healers. No mother would be holding her breath, hoping her child survives the next tour of duty. After a century of diplomacy, we would be sharing the planet with our earthly neighbors instead of trying to take it away from them. Maybe we’d be looking to the stars for some elbow room.

I know what you’re thinking. Sure, it’s a stupid idea. It’s almost as stupid as going on and on, making more veterans, endlessly fighting the Very Last War.

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13 Replies to “A Veteran’s Day Proposal”

  1. I love you to death, Larry, but I think myself into headaches, sometimes, after reading your blog. For some reason, I wear your writing, as much as I wear my worry for my own son, as I anticipate his next tour in Iraq.

    I can’t argue with you. Of course it would be nice, if we all just decided not to fight. I contemplate your suggestion that no one enlist. No military, no wars. But at what point would no one in the world ever have to fight?

    What would be the next “bill of goods” that we shouldn’t fight for? I can’t figure out at which point in a trickle-down scenario that the extinction of warriors will ever translate into the extinction of evil. We get rid of the miltary. No world wars. Then what? No police, no street violence? Then?

    The bottom line is that being a warrior isn’t *always* about killing someone. It is just as often (and MORE often, I like to think) about protecting or someone. My son’s most vivid memory of Iraq is being chased off from helping an older Iraqi women that had been shot in the shoulder: No man can touch a woman there. He meant to help her. He is a warrior.

    I am also a warrior. I’ve fought for, and won, custody of a young girl whose father was a serial pedophile. I hauled my ass into their lives, and hauled that kid OUT of there. It wasn’t war on a worldwide scale, but baby, it was war. It wasn’t all my doing, but there was a family left in wreckage. A divorce. A suicide. But I helped save a kid. What if I’d have said “I’m not fighting?”

    You may think it’s a whacked out analogy, but I do not. Some simply must fight on grander scales to save people. It’s all, still, saving people. Protecting them.

    Most of us–well, MANY–will fight for, and protect our families, our friends, loved ones, and complete strangers on different basis every day of our lives. Would that we not have to do that: Beautiful.

    Soldiers aren’t heroes? Veteran’s aren’t heroes? Because they FOUGHT? They enlisted? Thought bought a bill of goods? Of all you’ve ever written to me, this offends me the most. Anyone that bothers to help out another human being, on any scale, is a hero. Soldiers, police, firefighters, EMTs, parents, teachers, counselors.

    Heroes all, Lar.

    I’ll give it to you: It would be nice, though.

  2. In case anyone else is following this discussion, I want to say that Gnightgirl is one of my favorite bloggers. If you read her blog, This Just In — and you should — you will be as charmed as I have been. You might also discover that she is the mother of a soldier who has already been to Iraq once, and will soon be going back. She has not merely held her breath while her son has been away, but instead has mounted a high energy campaign to send care packages to the troops, many of whom are (like her son) little more than boys who are away from home for the first time. This project has grown into Toys for Troops, although it really is much more than that, and I encourage you to check out what she and her many volunteers are doing, and jump in yourself if you feel the urge.

    Lori, I know my opinion on this subject is both unpopular and unrealistic. I have said here before that I’m a one-issue guy, and that issue is war. This war or any war. I’m horrified when I think of what it does to people, and it takes only a cursory look at history to see that wars are self-perpetuating, that each war sets up the next one, and that the claimed reasons for going to war are seldom if ever the real reasons.

    I have heard many times the argument that there is evil in the world and that we must be prepared to defend our way of life. In practice, this boils down to each nation building the strongest army they can muster, and getting it ready to do battle. When you are an empire, as we are, you project force around the world, putting your troops and tanks and forts and battleships wherever you think you have a national interest. Eventually, what this looks like is a bunch of armies standing toe to toe, armed to the teeth and staring at each other across the border. As you might expect, this is not a blueprint for peace. It’s a recipe for disaster, as we have proven over and over for millenia.

    I’m not naive or foolish. I know my proposal is crazy. But I have seen the people of this country stop a war by standing up and saying “hell no, we won’t go” (among other things) and it makes me wonder if that method might work again, and then again and again. The profits of war are shared by only a few, while the suffering is spread to all the rest of us, whatever side we may find ourselves on, whether we are fighters or innocent victims. I’m not saying that a soldier in the field wouldn’t stop to help another human being if he could, but let’s be clear: that is not his mission. In any case, I’m pretty sure that if you took every single instance of “good” (any definition you choose) done by soldiers on the battlefield, they will not begin to counterbalance the pain, anguish, injury and death caused by military action. And need I say that somewhere down this road lies a nuclear holocaust, which is sure to ruin everyone’s day? Shouldn’t we try everything, even naive and foolish stuff, to prevent that?

    I like you, Lori, and I don’t want to offend you. If they’re heroes to you, then they’re heroes. What I object to is the way the our politicians throw that term around to pump up artificial patriotic fervor among our fighting-age population. I agree that some of them do truly heroic things. I think most of them would be uncomfortable with the title though — at least the ones I know.

    We are a militaristic society. We think it’s cool to kick ass. Our so-called leaders dehumanize the “enemy,” claim that God is on our side (not theirs), make up lies about nonexistent threats, easy conquests and being greeted as liberators. The troops march off to fight, many give their lives, many more take the lives of others, and in the end it’s the Halliburtons, the Blackwaters, the Exxons who thrive.

    I don’t care about “the next bill of goods we shouldn’t fight for.” This is the one I’m not buying.

  3. I’m trying to figure out why I let this get under my skin so much, Larry. I generally don’t engage in these debates, primarily because I’m not politically active or savvy enough to “spar” with you–or anyone else. And Lord knows that I’ve heard a lot worse than what you wrote here; I thought a woman was going to spit on me at an election night party, merely for having a son in the army. She told me off and marched away.

    Veteran’s Day was emotional for me. I received donation items from 600 kids to give to soldiers serving right now. I watched a slide show in which a photo of me hugging my kid home from Iraq flashed across an entire gymnasium wall. I watched tears run down the cheeks of WWII vets, and was stunned when THEY thanked ME after the ceremony. I insisted that I was the one that was honored with their presence, and that THEY were to be thanked.

    I didn’t expect this turn in my life. I’ve met, talked to, and worked with soldiers from every era in the last 2 years. (Not even 2 years! 18 months!) I haven’t met a man yet that signed up to kill. Or to die.

    In a way, I do give them automatic hero status. But when I learn more about the people I encounter, it’s not merely because they’re soldiers that I find them to be heroes. My son? He’s a hero because I got called to the high school a few years because he’d been fighting: Another kid had ripped $2 out of the hands of a kid in a wheelchair, and Brian set him straight. He’s a hero because he hits the brakes and jumps out of his car to help up old man that’s fallen on the ice. He’s my hero because he aches when people are embarrassed, or humiliated, or bullied.

    He has his reasons for enlisting; it was not a light decision for him. He didn’t enlist because he was blind. He didn’t enlist to kill people. He didn’t enlist because he was too stupid to do anything else. He didn’t enlist because he had no other options.

    I ramble. They’re soldiers. They’re veterans. Despite what the politicians do and say, or don’t do and say, they deserve a day. Teachers get a day. Nurses get a day. Bosses and Mothers and secretaries get a day.

    They should have their day.

  4. Gnightgirl – I can’t have this conversation with you. You have to do what you have to do. I hope Brian comes home safely. As you know, I hope nobody ever has to go again, but you are helping me see just how unlikely that is.

  5. What an intelligent discussion, and I thank you both for having it. This is what I would use as an example of rebuke when people make fun of blogs and commenters for being self-absorbed and obsessed with the trivial.

    My brother was in the National Guard, although he thankfully missed both Gulf Wars. He did see some pretty nasty civilian action in the 80s when called at Fort Indian Town Gap, and at one particularly brutal miner’s strike in Jasper, Indiana.

    I know my brother wanted to serve because to him that meant making a difference where it was important. To be a fair and thinking person where it was important. In my simple heart, I say that if there were no more people willing to kill for their country, then there would be no more wars. I’m pretty sure that if I said that to my brother, he would say “Why don’t you stop the wars first, and then I’ll put down my gun.”

  6. I inadvertently stumbled across this blog. Full disclosure, I’m an E8, close to twenty years of service (USN). When I went back to college around ten years ago in order to complete my undergraduate degree, I remember finding myself being dragged into occasional classroom debates referencing the “morality,” or lack thereof, of war in general. I’ll gladly concur that war itself is an abomination, a grossly immoral act. Humans, generally speaking, are loath to take another life since it is instinctually an unnatural act. Yet there are times when one must be prepared to fight. Wolves will incessantly prowl and, like it or not, there must be warriors (although I’m not enamored of the term “warriors,” I think it’s appropriate in this venue) prepared to lay it on the line in defense of those who are threatened. Harkening back to one of those classroom debates, I remember being challenged by a fresh-faced 18 year old, claiming that it would be a wonderful day if “they gave a war and nobody showed up.” I countered by simply asking her “what if they gave a war and only one side showed up?” That has happened you know. It’s generally called a “purge” or, better yet, “ethnic cleansing.” At what point do you stop trying to reason with an individual bent on your destruction and fight back? Anyway, I enjoy the civilized tone of the exchange on this blog.

  7. Joe – I was that fresh-faced 18-year-old and I think the question still deserves consideration. Your answer will certainly shut up most people, but it begs the question “What can we do to prevent anyone on either side showing up?” Clearly, building armies doesn’t work. In fact, I don’t think, despite what a bunch of military types keep saying, that building armies is even intended to put an end to war.

    You and everyone else who thinks I’m naive and foolish claim to agree with me that war is an abomination (I even got Gnightgirl to say it in a private email, heh, heh). The obvious next step is to STOP IT. We’ve been at it for a long time. Don’t you think it’s time to evolve?

  8. I didn’t call you “foolish” or “naive.” You may be a little bit overoptimistic perhaps with regard to human nature, but you certainly don’t sound like any sort of fool to me. Do I think that humanity will eventually evolve to the point that wars will no longer be fought? Maybe, but then again, considering the fact that 99% of all species that ever roamed the face of the Earth are now extinct (only to be replaced by other, newer species), we may not make it that far (as an aside, I recently read an essay some anthropologist wrote stating that human evolution has gone about as far as it reasonably can since natural selection is no longer an issue due to “modern medicine” and all that good stuff, but I digress). Anyway, while I do believe that war itself is an abomination, one must still be prepared to deal with it as an eventuality. And, after the things I’ve seen and done over the course of the past twenty years or so, I’m entitled to my cynicism (which is rooted in some fairly severe reality). Until peace breaks out all over, the best manner in which to deal with war is to be prepared to win.

  9. Joe – You and I are not going to agree on this. I can deal, and I want to thank you for your thoughts, and for disagreeing so gracefully.

    The reason the human race won’t get to evolve past our ritual slaughtering of each other is because we will all be dead by our own hands before evolution has a chance to take its course, and/or because we will be so busy readying ourselves for war, and we will spend so much of our resources on it, that we won’t be able to take care of the conservation, anti-pollution and renewable energy projects that would allow us to survive on the planet.

    Peace is not going to “break out.” It’s a process, and in my opinion the one that should be given the absolute highest priority. All the politicians and generals and captains of industry and preachers who’ve been saying that we must be strong in order to bring about peace, put up or shut up. Are we not strong enough now to turn our full attention to putting an end to this eternal, damnable conflict? If the world sees that that is our true mission (not the theft of oil or the ego massage of an idiot President, or the profits of arms dealers), and that we will not be deterred, who is there with the might to challenge us?

    If something is an abomination, perhaps rather than getting ready to participate, rather than presenting it to our young as a grand, noble adventure, we should be trying everything we can think of to STOP IT.

  10. Larry, I think you’ve posed one of the great conundrums facing humankind in this particular blog post. Most of us — your readers — agree with you that war is a terrible abomination and that we should be doing everything we can to prevent it. As a peaceable person myself, I want that, too. And yet… and yet … in our entire history on this planet, we’ve waged war against one another. As much as I wish I could be wrong about this, I believe that it’s the dark side of human nature to want more than we have, so much so that some of us are willing to kill others in order to get it. Or we believe in some “God” so strongly we’re willing to kill others to force them to believe as we do. It’s appalling … but it’s real. Is there a way to finally resolve this bloodlust that lurks, always, beneath the surface? Perhaps there is, but like you, I think we’ll probably destroy ourselves before we can find the solution.

    By all means keep posting such thought-provoking opinions. It does all of us good, whether we agree or not, to put our minds to looking for answers.

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