Happy Veterans Day.
I by no means want to underplay the immense, incalculable sacrifices that SO, SO many have made in our country, in the name of our freedom and safety and future. As a civilian with no military parents, it is hard for me to even fathom the selflessness, the danger, the time away from home, the hours of worry over deployment, the physical sacrifices made in training and on-duty, the constant moving around, the emotional and mental strain…it is unimaginable for those who have never experienced it firsthand, and I am amazed at those able to live this as their life missions. Gracias, veterans and those who are still somewhere in the world making these sacrifices as I write.
But every Veterans Day, I can’t help but think of my incredible journey with the foot soldiers of nonviolence and peace-building in the recent years of my life. I think of the death tolls (of ALL sides of the conflicts in which we’ve engaged as a nation), the destruction wrought on lands of war, the incredibly inadequate care those who give everything they have to protecting American rights (and the fact that they are deprived of what I believe to be basic human rights upon return)…and I have to ask: why do we honor our servicepeople in this way?
We wave a flag, we post a grateful Facebook status, we kiss or hug our grandpa or mom or sibling or significant other, we (well, some of you, at least) get the day off from work and use it for nothing more than to complain about the first snow of the year happening that day (I’m looking at you, Cleveland). If we so value the gifts of freedom and life they are toiling– DYING– over, why is this the way to recognize them? What about something a little more substantial, a little more permanent and sacrificial on our own parts?
What about promoting peace? This would be an ultimate sign of gratitude and thanks– ensuring that no one will ever have to do as much as these veterans have done ever again because we as a society are committing ourselves to defending the people of the world and their rights in a way that costs no one blood from their bodies and threats of their personal safety levels.
When we continue to do nothing but those semi-hollow gestures of gratitude, we perpetuate war—and, worse, the need for it. We promote bloodshed, sending young people to foreign lands where they will place themselves in dangers unforseen. And they are not the only ones who pay the toll, nor are their loved ones. President Eisenhower once said so eloquently:
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of [or in defense of; MDull’s thoughts] life at all in any true sense.”
For you RENT fans out there, “La Vie Boheme” wisely warns that “the opposite of war isn’t peace, it’s creation.” (I would insert that true peace, in its essence, IS creation, or that the creation of peace is perhaps the most antonymous idea there is to war…) What are we creating that will put an end to war? Let me rephrase that: what are YOU creating– TODAY, on VETERANS DAY 2011— that will put an end to war and prove to be the most thoughtful, heartfelt form of thanks to the women and men laying their lives on the line each day of each year for centuries of US existence?
I am blessed with a job that gives me a forum to speak to and learn about peace from some of the brightest minds in the world: young people. Without worrying about the burdens of the “possible” and the “logistically likely,” these students are free to dream, free to creatively think of out-of-the-box solutions to problems seemingly too large to tackle. Today, we are examining peace and reconciliation, both biblically and within their school community. I am choosing to create dialogue, to create a safe space, to build a common ground for those who so willingly embrace it as an alternative to hatred and violence. I am not naïve enough to believe that dialogue in 1 school will end war, but it is a truthful, realistic step in that direction. The more we talk through our problems, the less we will use human beings pulling triggers as a shield for what we are too afraid to do: TAKE ACTION (and prevent the escalation of conflicts to the point where a body count is the only thing being created).
So to my grandfather, my uncle, all of my once-uniformed cousins, and the many friends and classmates who have stepped to (and continue to step to) the military lines in the world, this one’s for you, and may we soon reach a time and place in the world where people will cease to endure the struggles, sacrifices, and pain you have seen in your service.
Happy Veterans Day. May you celebrate meaningfully.
“Why should we send our children to die because our leaders can’t solve our problems by talking?” -Rachel Ben Dor