We are all dutifully thanking our veterans today. This is the right thing to do, since all veterans, active-duty military and their families have made many sacrifices on behalf of our national security and international presence, sacrifices both great and small. I am moved, like many others, by the touching photographs of displays of affection, of pageantry, of emotion. Just search for Veteran’s Day on Pinterest and you’ll see what I mean. I support the men and women and their families who do these difficult jobs, my heart aches for them seeing just a glimpse of what they’ve had to endure. And yet…my heart also aches with wondering why some wars were even attempted, why some sacrifices were even required. To ask these questions today seems disrespectful of the sacrifices made. But it also seems that to celebrate today without the humble asking of such questions also undervalues this day.
There are many layers here. I have presented military identification in a store for a discount and then uncomfortably mumbled, “you’re welcome” when the clerk kindly thanked me for my family’s service to our country. Maybe they don’t know that my husband’s service to his country looks an awful lot like a civilian job, perhaps except for the random scheduling and the sense of being at the perpetual beck and call of the Big Navy. His service to the country also includes us living around the world from each other for a year, although to me this seems more like a tentatively smart career move and no great sacrifice on behalf of the general American public.
Because important people on the East Coast (is it Congress? the Big Navy?) insist that we always have 2 carriers in the Middle East, my brother-in-law is out there somewhere, missing Thanksgiving and Christmas with his family for the second year in a row and my yoga instructor, who moved here to be close to her boyfriend, has now had to send him on deployment to (ironically) that same carrier. How many mothers and fathers are practically single parents because they live at the mercy of this odd system that requires husbands, wives, parents to deploy for 6-12 month stints? It is a difficult lifestyle that requires much courage and tremendous sacrifice, yes. But to what end?
All of the above can be put to rest by understanding that the military is indeed a successful jobs program, through which many families receive the security of a salary and healthcare that they might otherwise not receive. Perhaps these jobs are inconvenient and difficult for families, but working on an oil rig is probably more dangerous than many jobs in the Navy (thank God).
But what about the loss of human life? What about the loss of quality of life? What makes this day of remembrance so somber is the fact that we are remembering men and women, young and old, who have sacrificed their vision, their ability to ambulate or to care for themselves, their mental health, and even their lives, in wars and conflicts worldwide. We remember them with grief and respect, even when (or especially when) the exact enemy against or cause for which they fought is somewhat unclear. The soldier whose headstone is pictured above died in the North African campaign of World War II, a war fought against a clear enemy and with victorious results. More recent conflicts feel more confusing to me, like those in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and probably many more I might not even know about. “Victory” feels elusive. The cost seems altogether too high.
It seems important today to remember everyone and every conflict and to learn from all of the stories. I’m thankful for my husband’s willingness to work heartily at a job he doesn’t always enjoy and for the security of a paycheck and healthcare in an uncertain economy. I’m thankful for our friend, Rob, who volunteered to serve for a year in Afghanistan and came back safely and with difficult stories of the relationships between US and Afghan troops. I’m thankful for Mr. Neil Carey, who I met through my place of work and who, when he was my husband’s rank in the Navy, made a mere $60 a month. He remembers his participation in World War II with such clarity and now at 90 years old, still experiences each day with a depth of joy I admire greatly. I think of the families who have lost husbands, wives, sons, daughters, parents and friends in past and current wars and pray for them to experience peace that “passes understanding” on this day and on every painful anniversary. I think of Sgt. Robert Bales, facing charges for murdering 16 Afghan civilians, and grieve for his family and for him. If he truly did commit these atrocious murders, he certainly let his country down; at the same time, if he was also suffering from improperly diagnosed mental illness or if he just “snapped” after continued traumatic exposure to the horrid conditions of war, then we also let him down.
I remember all of this. And I allow myself to feel the conflict, the unsettledness, the questions in my heart. And I commit to be a person of peace, wearing peaceful shoes (Ephesians 6), speaking peaceful words, practicing gentleness, kindness and respect in relationships.
And on this day of remembrance, this Veteran’s Day, I am thankful for all of the sacrifices made on behalf of this country. May the many sacrifices not be in vain and may we learn our lessons well from our past and from the many great and small acts of heroism on our behalf.