Thoughts for Veterans Day 2017

Thoughts for Veterans Day 2017

Each year, in preparation for a Veterans Day program, the newsletter of my community asks that all veterans confirm the community’s record of their branch of service and “war time service location.” Upon reading this year’s request, it occurred to me that “war time” has become normal time. At least since the Viet Nam era the United States has been involved in perpetual war fought in one country or another against a diversity of “terrorists” and their supporters. This brave new world is rife with fear, suspicion, and hegemony.

Since the end of World War I United States international policy has been split into two opposing movements. The first movement embraces non-violence, negotiation, and amenable resolutions as instruments of peace. It was launched with the U.S. Senate ratification of the international Kellogg-Briand Peace Pact, signed by President Calvin Coolidge on January 17, 1929. The Pact reads in part that the signers, “Condemn recourse to war for the solution of international controversies, and renounce it, as an instrument of national policy in their relations with one another.” It also adds that the parties agree, “that the settlement or solution of all disputes or conflicts of whatever nature or of whatever origin they may be, which may arise among them, shall never be sought except by pacific means.”

The primary instrument of the second movement is military power. Its mantra is “peace through strength” backed by superior weapons and a warrior class. This movement is sustained by a professionalized military and by words such as those sung in our National Anthem, “rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air… Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us as a nation.  Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just…”  This movement has reached a pinnacle of coercive power in the bluster of implied threats from President Trump toward North Korea and Iran.

The primacy of U.S. military power to settle disputes has been perpetuated with the deployment of military units in over fifty countries. U.S. citizens and sometimes members of Congress are unaware of military activity in some of these countries. For example, Senators Lindsey Graham and Chuck Schumer say they did not know there were 1000 U.S. troops in Niger. Their presence came to public attention with the notification of the deaths of 4 soldiers who were among a 12-member Army Special Forces unit accompanying Nigerien forces near the village of Tongo Tongo on October 3. It seems the United States has become a warrior nation.

It is apparent that the arc of the pendulum has swung from its peak amplitude of Armistice Day and the “pacific means” movement of the late 1920’s to the opposite peak of the early 21st century movement of “Warriors” as the salvation of the nation. Armistice Day has been coopted by Veterans Day, conceived to celebrate and honor men and women warriors who are put into harms way with the tools of war to solve international conflicts.

However, the focus of Veterans Day can be redirected. It may be the time to support military veterans with the acknowledgement that it has been a great tragedy to entice these women and men into participating in military solutions when there are other ways to make international friends, become good neighbors, and offer transforming love to enemies. It may be the time to offer our apology for luring them into experiences of maiming, death, and a lifetime of dreadful memories. It may become a day to pledge a “welcome home,” care for their wounds, and commit to a policy that condemns a normal recourse to war.

A step toward the transformation of the Veterans Day celebration is to include the many thousands of civilian veterans who have volunteered to go into harms way without weapons of destruction.

Veterans who have marched for civil rights, women’s rights, workers’ rights, rights of GLBTQ people; thank you for your service.

Veterans who have served as fire fighters, medics, miners, social workers; thank you for your service.

Veterans who have served with Doctors without Borders, as aid workers with Syrian and Myranmar Muslims refugees, as workers with the Red Cross and Red Crescent; thank you for your service.

Veterans who have served in the Press Corps, for the World Council of Churches, in the Peace Corps, and as state department workers in embassies and consulates; thank you for your service.

Veteran volunteers who have searched, rescued, and rebuilt after earthquakes, landslides, fires, floods; thank you for your service.

Thank you, all who have non violently sacrificed and sometimes risked your lives to advance the swing toward good neighbors, peace, and reconciliation. You are riding the wave of a movement toward a future humanity where coercive violence will be unacceptable among people and among nations. As John F. Kennedy said, “War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today.” It is a brave new paradigm, yet unnoticed by many. It transforms the nature of human beings. Thank you for leading the way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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No More War

Published in the New Hampshire Concord Monitor, May 28, 2017

MEMORIAL DAY 2017

Study War No More

Each spring, on a sunny day before Memorial Day, our family visits the graves of our parents to clean away the weeds and plant flowers. As we clean the headstone, we remind each other of the struggles and good times we had shared with our parents. The view from the family plot in this small country cemetery includes small American flags waving in the spring breeze next to grave markers of military veterans. Some had lived long lives while others had fallen in battle, much too young. There were veterans from many past wars. However, as I took in this scene, a cloud settled over the cemetery and the wind ceased to blow. The flags fell limp as if grieving with the discovery that for the past fifty years there has been perpetual war creating more veterans, more wounds, and more graves.

I was reminded again of our country’s never-ending war when I viewed a new memorial to veterans in the community where I live. There is a plaque embedded into concrete for each branch of the military. Written into the concrete are the words, “In honor of all veterans past, present, and future.” Has war become so much a part of our lives that we accept its inevitable extension into the future of our country?

The normalization of perpetual war has seeped into our society unnoticed. We have professionalized our armed forces. During World War II, military personnel were called “our boys in uniform.” Now we call them “warriors.” Joining the military is a job and a career choice. In March of this year there were United States Special Operation Forces deployed in 102 countries around the globe. Often our country leads with military action or the threat of action before initiating diplomacy. The military industrial complex drives our country’s economic health. To seek an end to war is to jeopardize the stock market and to be against good civilian jobs needed to keep the military supplied with weapons and all the materials that keep an army running.

The best way to honor our war veterans this Memorial Day is to reject the notion that it is normal to live in a time of perpetual war. In the Memorial Day ceremonies in every city, village, and town let us sing “I ain’t gonna study war no more.” Let us pledge to take military recruiters and organizations out of our high schools. Further, as a veteran, I do not need praise for being a “warrior.” Nor do I need medals and speeches for bravery or praises for my sacrifice. I need people to confess that there is no glory in war. There may be times when our country finds itself in a defensive war. But do not deny that war is a horror and a corrupter of young lives wrenched out of their home cities, villages and farmlands. Some are killed. Some are permanently disabled. PTSD is another result of sending people into a war environment that is alien to all they’ve been taught about relationships, citizenship and rule of law.

Therefore, this Memorial Day, I seek to honor veterans of past wars with my own confession. I served as an Army Medic at Walter Reed Army Medical Center from 1962 through the beginning of the Viet Nam war in 1965. Later, one of my brothers served as a cook in Viet Nam. I was never on a battlefield. But I confess we’ve both contributed to the carnage of war by our participation in support systems that make it possible to send men and women into harms way, some to their deaths. In retrospect, I’m sorry that I chose that path when other ways were available to me. I am unable to justify participating in the precursor of what has become perpetual war.

And so I grieve over the flag marked graves of our veterans. I seek reconciliation with those women and men who have been injured and killed during the last fifty years. I also seek to reconcile with veterans who gave up portions of their lives to military deployment. The first step is for us to commit to extracting our country from the bravado and profits of war.

We can begin by becoming a people who honor those who non-violently risk and sometimes sacrifice their lives as volunteers in risky areas and situations in our world: people who bear the name of our country as they serve through non governmental agencies such as Doctors Without Borders and journalists; serve in refugee aid projects and rehabilitation projects after floods, tornadoes, and earthquakes; and serve through organizations like UNICEF, United Nations Relief and Works Agency, and the Peace Corps. These are sometimes dangerous and radical alternatives to war and aggression. Thank them for their courage and commitment.

Finally, this Memorial Day let us say over the graves of the fallen, ‘in our grief we commit to a future where we teach the ways of peace with justice. You have not died in vain. You have created among us abhorrence for the ways of war and a passion for diplomacy and reconciliation with our neighbors.”  Then perhaps we shall notice the clouds pass away and the wind stir the flags marking the resting places of our war veterans.