As a liberal, I naturally hate the idea of war. I don't think it's just a liberal thing - if you ask most people - they will tell you that war is a bad thing. Politicians will tell you that they use it as a last resort when all other diplomatic means break down and if there is an immediate threat to the safety of innocent people. Force must be used to maintain the order. However, you would have to wonder how quickly those same politicians would go to war if they had to fight it themselves or if their own children were immediately going to be on the front lines - then it seems like restraint would rule the day. In a perfect world, war would be nonexistent. Peace would be the reigning principal and the world leaders would work to uphold that ideal. Unfortunately this is not a perfect world - not by a long shot. According to the GlobalSecurity.org - there are over 42 armed conflicts or wars around the world and the US is involved in four of them in places like Iraq, Iran, the Philippines, and Djibouti. But this blog is not about discussing the political fall-out of war. It's about appreciating those men and women who serve because it's their sense of duty and honor to do so.
My father served in the army in the 179th Signal Repair Company in World War II. He was in Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes, and Central Europe. He was lucky enough not to see any direct combat, but I'm sure there were people that he knew in boot camp or even in his hometown of Lexington, MA who went to war and never came back. He would talk about being in France and learning to speak French pretty fluently. He talked about giving a shipment of wool sweaters to the people on the French countryside who were cold and didn't have enough clothes to keep them warm. The soldiers passed out the sweaters and blankets out to a very grateful village. He'd smile when he thought about that - soldiers being good will ambassadors instead of warriors. There were also the humorous stories about soldiers trying to mail back a whole jeep back home which was amusing but you would think the supply sergeant would notice after a while. If my dad had a really bad experience during the war, he never let on. From what I understand, he got out relatively unscathed physically and emotionally, but others were not so lucky. Max's dad, George, saw combat - really bad things that forever scar the soul. Friends and commades being blown to bits. When he lived with us, he'd talk about the war. There was no romance just sadness. He prayed that Max would never experience the same thing. But at least when both my dad and Max's dad came home, they were treated like heroes and got a chance to go to college on the GI bill which is how my father met my mother. Back then, we did the right thing for the greatest generation.
When I was a young girl growing up in the late 60's and early 70's, the Vietnam war was as close as your TV screen. I remember seeing it on the 6:00 p.m. news while we all sat around eating our sausage noodle casserole. It was violent, gritty and very scary. I remember my mother being afraid that my brothers would be drafted and saying that she would take them to Canada if they were. My father would voice an objection or two, but in his heart of hearts, didn't want his boys over there. It must have been hard trying to reconcile his sense of patriotism and still see the war we were embroiled in as being so wrong and not wanting your sons to have any part of it. My sister Kathy demonstrated against it and was very vocal about her opposition. For me at six or seven, it seemed like anyone who went to the war would be killed and the thought of my teenage brothers going over there terrified me. What were the adults thinking? Sending people off to a foreign place to kill other people never made sense to me but then war never does - it doesn't matter what age you are.
When those Vietnam vets came home, they were treated so shamelessly. They were called baby killers, spit on, and generally humiliated because it was such an unpopular war. They didn't get the applause at airports that our soldiers do now (thanks to the realization of how badly we treated the Vietnam vets). Again, I was a little kid and confused by the fact that those men could have been my brothers and yet they were being treated like criminals just for doing what the government had asked them to do. Most of these guys were not enlisted, they were drafted - they had to serve whether they wanted to or not. After giving what they could to this country - how did we repay them? By shunning them because we couldn't admit that the US had lost a war and it wasn't their fault. No wonder the Vietnam vets had the mental health problems they did - you sacrifice your youth and vigor to be treated like an outcast? It took decades before they finally got the help they needed from the VA hospitals.
The Vietnam Memorial has the names of the 60,000 men and women who lost their lives in that conflict and it's a shiny black marble so that you can see yourself in the names of the those that have fallen. It's a chilling reminder about the human cost of war. Too often, we just get the numbers, the billions of dollars that it costs but seeing the names of 60,000 people cut down in their prime is awe inspiring and sad. They were like us - with hopes and dreams and we didn't love them enough when they came home from that horrible war. They ended up broken. Every member of Congress should be required to go there, see it and talk to the families of the fallen before they can even think of declaring an act of violence like war. They need to listen to a heartbroken mother and say "Dammit there has got to be a better way - our soldiers don't need a war to prove themselves!"
Wars are mostly about land, political or religious extremism. Most of the time it's about all three. We call upon our warriors to fight the good fight that we can't do ourselves. They become symbols for our freedom. But they are more than just symbols, they are sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, cousins, teachers and friends. They have people that they love dearly and that dearly love them and both sides of the equation are losing sleep worrying about each other and all the milestones they are missing - the birth of a new child, birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, school plays, championship games, etc. While we sit down bitching about the economy and which political party is right - they are over there hoping they'll be back safely to witness that next milestone. They truly live their lives from day to day and we often don't give them much thought if you are not friends or a relative of a person in the service. It takes Memorial Day or Vetern's Day or a holiday like Thanksgiving or Christmas for us to really think about letting them know how we feel to send them letters of support or CARE packages. Is it that we're ungrateful? Maybe, but I think it's more than that for those outside the realm of military service. We can't comtemplate the sacrifice and it's just too overwhelming to think about so it's easier to not think about it at all - to not thank a serviceman when we see them in uniform when they come home for leave. But it's important to acknowledge that sacrifice - to acknowledge the emotion. A soldier surprising their child at school to see their play when that little one thought their mom or dad was 5,000 miles away and seeing the looks on both of their faces as they hold each other tight is enough to make even the bravest general wipe a tear. We take those moments for granted but a soldier just can't - they are too precious. Everyone has an opinion on whether we are right or wrong to get involved in our present conflicts - that is the complicated part. But we can agree on one simple thing: you don't have to love the war, you just need to love the warrior.