I got myself involved in a minor kerfluffle on social media today, Veterans Day, 2020.
My sensibilities about war and the military were honed in the late 1960s when I, an unusually aware almost-adolescent, watched the Vietnam War spin out of control and the anti-war protests that followed. I counted myself kindred with those who took to the streets to call for peace even though I was too young to actually take to the streets myself. Since that time, I’ve become even more entrenched in that viewpoint because I’ve delved deeper into the history of that war, not only our participation in it but that of the French in the late ’40s and into the ’50s.
Even from a purely pragmatic, unsentimental angle, Vietnam was a tragic boondoggle. It couldn’t have been played worse by the American generals and politicians who executed it. That’s not even taking into account the utter immorality of killing so many hundreds of thousands of people for the sole purpose of forcing a country to adopt an economic system we approved of.
I’ve said all along, this holy land has committed a number of mortal sins, among them slavery, the Native American holocaust, and Vietnam.
So I always feel a little out of balance on Veterans Day. I mean, I have scads of friends (real life friends, not just the soc. med. ones) who served in the American military and some who even saw action in Southeast Asia and they are all good human beings. (I’ve weeded the no-so-good human beings out of my life.) Those vets remaining on my friends roster, though, represent a cross section of the pop. that was torn by the call to duty, the wish to believe our country stood for right and good, and the realization that the war could be described as farcical, only a human endeavor that results in piles upon piles of dead bodies and severed limbs can never be trivialized by calling it a farce.
And yet, every single war results in piles and piles of dead bodies and severed limbs, even the “good” wars, the “just” wars. I’ve never fully grasped why we’re so giddy and adoring of people who’ve fought in wars. I suppose I never will.
Anyway, a dear friend (a real life one as well as a soc. med. one) posted a simple line this AM:
Happy Armistice Day.
His point? Let’s celebrate the peace that Veterans Day originally was intended to mark rather than war and warriors. I commented:
More like, Happy Let’s Put Our Weapons Down For About 20 Years Until We Can Develop the Technology and Stoke Our Hatred For Each Other Enough To Go About Killing 60 Million of Our Fellow Human Beings Day.
Another guy jumped in and said we’d all be speaking German if it wasn’t for warriors, etc. It didn’t become particularly contentious — no insults were flung and no one accused anyone else of being an agent of Satan — and I was glad of that. But I was moved to comment and I’ll share it here. I hope it more completely represents my feelings about war and military service:
War is a stinking, rotten, dirty, sick business that decent people sometimes have to engage in. The US entrance into WWII was the turning point for the entire conflict. We chose to side with a country (the USSR) that we viewed as slightly less horrifying than Germany. We also sided with a dying colonial empire (the UK) that was desperate to remain in existence. Neither of these was an easy, straightforward decision. But such is the case in all human affairs. Soldiers aim to turn other soldiers into putrid hamburger. There are no referees or Marquess of Queensbury rules, despite national leaders pretending to honor the Geneva conventions. One of the reasons we were on the winning side in WWII was we had in our leadership (LeMay, Patton, Bomber Harris, etc.) officers who were willing to kill an unspeakable number of people, civilians and children included, in order for us to win. Had we been on the losing side, they — and many others — would have been executed for war crimes. That is simply the way of war. I’m pleased the Allies won WWII. But we must also always remember that the entire war was a tragedy of the highest order. Simply throwing parades and roses at the feet of returning soldiers is only half the story. The other half is a commitment to finding ways to peace, all the while knowing we might have to depend on the most bloodthirsty of our fellow citizens to protect us from bad guys once again. And, as (the original poster) rightly points out, nothing we’ve engaged in since 1953 can correctly be regarded as “just” war so we’re at a point where our soldiers for more than a half century have been fighting unjust wars. I don’t want to throw parades and rose petals for that even though I feel for the people in our military and sympathize with their plight. They are humans, too, and deserve respect.
Like almost all things in adult life, war and warriors, to me, are subjects that engender conflicting, often contradictory, feelings.