Monday, November 10, 2014

Some thoughts as we approach Veteran's Day

Collectively, Americans have come far from the days of the war in Vietnam.  Now, it seems we have learned that we can honor the warriors even as we protest the war.  My Vietnam experience was not one of a combat soldier.  I didn't believe that war was in the best interests of the US, and I have mixed feelings to this day about my service there.  I didn't carry a gun in the boonies and shoot at the "enemy", but I did what was asked of me by my nation.  No one spat on me when I arrived back in "the world" (as we called the US, then) at 3:00 am in Ft. Lewis, WA.  But there was no "welcome home" either.  My life was changed by my experiences in the military and I'm still trying to decide the sign of the balance - negative or positive. At least now I do see more positives than when the experience was more recent to me.

There will be an outpouring of thanks tomorrow for all the veterans, as well as for those currently serving.  That's a sort of progress, I think.  But there are other perspectives on this day of recognition for veterans.  Most of the wars on foreign soil we've conducted since WWII haven't involved a real threat to American freedoms at home, so our military personnel have been killing and being killed for causes that are pretty far removed from protection of American freedom.  The war fighters, now including both men and women, in the wars since WWII may have been heroic in their battlefield actions on behalf of their brothers/sisters in arms, but that heroism is not based on defending America, per se.  These soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen (not all males, anymore) have been carrying out the orders passed on to them by their civilian leaders, irrespective of the rationale on which those orders are based.  They're doing their duty as best they can, doing what is asked of them by their nation, doing what they've sworn to do, doing what they're paid to do.  In real wars - not the sanitized wars of righteous Americans battling the evil servants of an evil nation often portrayed by political "leaders" - Americans engage in atrocities amounting to war crimes, just as their enemies do.  War is an evil, poisonous thing that attacks the morality of all its participants.  The victors may put the losers on trial for war crimes, but their hands are never lily-white clean.

I came home from Vietnam with no flashbacks, nightmares, and ingrained fears (all symptoms of PTSD) because I was "in the rear, with the gear".  But many did come back from wars on foreign soil with psychological problems, in part because of things they had seen and in which they had participated.  I offer no judgment of anyone who may have done immoral things in the military - who carried out unlawful orders.  Those participating in incidents like My Lai certainly are responsible for what they did (Nuremberg established that principle), but I'm not in any position to judge them.  I don't know what I would have done had I been there - my good fortune in my war was to escape such awful situations.  I'm grateful for that.  I'm certainly no hero, by any stretch of the imagination.  With time, I've mostly come to terms with my service and am not at all ashamed to be a military veteran who participated (in a very minor way) in a war on foreign soil - like my son - and my father before me.  In my family, we have answered the call of our nation.

The real crime, in my opinion, is that we ask our young people to engage in wars, not only to defend our liberty, but in many instances to carry out the political will of our government by the application of violent force on our "enemies".  We throw them into the cesspool that is a real war and we expect - no, demand - that they come back squeaky clean.  Let us all ponder that as we recognize our war fighters for their service on this national holiday!  May we eventually come to learn that war is supposed to be a last resort, engaged in to defend ourselves and our allies from those who would harm us - not to be a violent means of imposing our political will on others.

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