Sunday, November 10, 2013

Veterans, War, and Dreams of Peace

The line between honoring those who served in war and glorifying war is fine but critical.  

ARMISTICE DAY - 96 YEARS LATER. Today is the 96th anniversary of Armistice Day, the day Germany surrendered, ending "The Great War." We now observe November 11 as Veterans Day. At least 8,538,315 soldiers died in World War I; there were 37,508,686 total casualties, or 57.6% of all troops deployed by allied and axis forces.

FOR REMEMBRANCE. I've found numerous poems in tribute to those fallen in World War I, but choose the following, called "For Remembrance" by Basil Ebers, to post:

What is it, O dear Country of our pride,
We pledge anew that we will not forget?
To keep on Freedom's altar burning yet
The fires for which a myriad heroes died
Known and unknown, beyond the far sea's tide
That their great gift be no futility.

Faith with the Dead kept through our living faith;
In this alone the true remembrance lies,
The unfading garland for the sacrifice,
To prove their dream of Brotherhood no wraith,
No moment's hope--its birth-pang one with death--
but the fixed goal of our humanity.

HONOR THE WAR DEAD, NOT WAR. A fine line it is, but oh so critical that it be observed and guarded. The line--almost imperceptible when inflamed with hatred toward enemies, drunk with hard-fought victory, or intoxicated with exaggerated nationalism--will glorify or condemn us. It is the line between honoring the war dead, along with those who serve in the military today, and glorifying war itself.

NEVER DREAM OF ITS VIOLENCE. Honor with reverence those men and women who serve and die in harm's way. Weep and mourn for civilians cruelly caught in the strife. Give honor for Veterans who have served in harm's way in the name of freedom. But never glory in war. Never embrace its horrors. Never savor its torments. Never dream of its violence. Never drink to its return. Never gaze upon its power, lest its illusion seduce us. Lest war lust obsess us. Lest its siren sound lure us into its labyrinthine bowels and we swear allegiance to it, live for it, and our souls die even as we breathe.

NOT ALL WARS ARE EQUAL. Not all wars are equal. A vast majority are not really necessary. This is not a reflection on the troops who fought them as it is on those who chose and directed them. The war in Iraq was an example of a war begun with highly suspect justifications (now completely debunked) and carried along with ranging political rationalizations.

VETERAN DREAMS. I know some Veterans and they are people of integrity. Some fought in World War II, some in Korea, some served during the Vietnam conflict, and some in Iraq and Afghanistan. They tell different stories. All are glad to be alive. All grieve their lost comrades. All are relieved that their service is ended. None I know wish for their sons or daughters the opportunity to fight another war.

A NEW CROP OF HOMELESS VETERANS. I've worked with homeless vets for years. Just when we were getting most of the Vietnam-era Vets connected with counseling, housing, and the costly, life-long resources that are necessary for ones whose minds, emotions, bodies, and souls have been ravaged by war, America starts breeding a new crop soon-to-be homeless Vets. It doesn't take years for Vets returning from doing our government's dirty work to show up in soup lines and shelters; think in terms of months. It takes many years--and often a lifetime--however, to overcome what a few months in front-line action can do.

WAR FINDS A WAY. Militarism always seems to find some twisted way to justify the necessity and perpetuation of war. Each generation seems to have its share of blood lust. Military training, heavy investment in weaponry and the "defense industry," and constant  rehearsal for conflict seeks self-validation, self-justification. It doesn't take much of a provocation by one of the world's many tyrants or rogue regimes to pop the cork.  Once engaged, militarism plants its gruesome seed then argues for its rebirth in every generation. War is self-perpetuating; few generations can resist it.

ART'S PROMISE AND POWER. It has occurred to me (or at least resurfaced within me) that a way to reveal the hollow way of mammon and violence, and to simultaneously bring light to grace and peace, is through arts and literature. Case in point: the Czech Republic and the nonviolent Velvet Revolution. Political partisanship gets us nowhere. The evangelical church has largely lost its witness amid partisanship. But art--the written word, the dramatized situation, the lifted song, and the vision graphically cast--has more power to delegitimate war and cumber, and to bring the possibility of grace and peace into our lives than the currently prevailing methods of choice.

Photo: I snapped this photo during an early-morning visit to the Korean War Memorial

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