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A Veteran’s Day Note

I’ve written about my ambivalence for military themed holidays and flag waving before.  I worry about anything that glorifies war while at the same time I think we need to remember and recognize those among us who are willing to make great sacrifices to defend our constitution.  I still feel bewildered sometimes as to how I ended up entangled with any kind of military life.  But I love my husband and he is a soldier so the story is as simple as that.

But this is the story I think of every Veteran’s Day:

(And I apologize now for not knowing off the top of my head who the writer is, but if I find my copy of the original article at any point I will amend this post.)  My dad clips articles for us and mails them out in large packets all the time, and I can tell when he finds one particularly important because it’s a xerox, which means my brothers both received copies of it, too.  Many years ago he sent me a xeroxed article that I saved and still have somewhere buried in a filing cabinet.  It was an essay from the New York Times about Veteran’s Day.  The author was old enough that his father had fought in World War I.  His father never talked about it, but the author felt great reverence for his service in the Great War, and swelled with pride for his country and his father every Veteran’s Day, back when it was still known as Armistice Day.  He filled in the vacuum of his father’s silence with noble things in his mind.  Until one day, late in his father’s life, the old man finally muttered something about how much he hated Armistice Day.  Because for symbolic purposes leaders on high waited to end the war on the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.  The old soldier said he watched men die in those last few hours of the war.  Lives lost for nothing grander than creating a moment that looked good on paper to people who were too far removed from the suffering to care.  That’s what he thought of on Armistice Day.

My husband is a good man.  There is no one else I’d rather be married to and I’m proud of the way he served in Iraq.  There are many heroic people in uniform who should be acknowledged today, and shown appreciation for what they do for the rest of us.

But we need to try harder to make their jobs unnecessary.  War is a horror.  It may sometimes be necessary, but it should never be welcomed.  I think the reason these wars we are engaged in have gone on so long is that ordinary people are disconnected from them.  My own children forget the wars are still going on because their own dad is finally home and it no longer touches their lives.  I listened to the line repeated so often about, “We must fight them there so we don’t have to fight them here,” and shuddered.  What right do we have to destroy the lives of ordinary people forced to live where we choose to fight a war?

So, yes, please honor those who are deserving today, because their sacrifices are beyond measure.  But don’t mingle that pride with any misplaced affection for the wars themselves.  I’ve met people who do, and they make me feel less safe.  My husband joined the military to help prevent war.  My greatest hope is that he succeeds and works himself right out of a job.

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