A Veteran’s Musings on Friends, Veteran’s Day and War

“Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart.” ― Eleanor Roosevelt

This past Monday was Veteran’s Day here in the U.S., the day we as a nation set aside to give honor to our service members past and present for their sacrifices paid to our nation in times of war. As a military veteran (four years Navy, Viet Nam War), I guess that includes me.

But I have purposefully eschewed participating in or celebrating the day (I have my reasons why) and have made it a point over the years to unabashedly explain to anyone who wanted to know why. So, I was unexpectedly surprised when our oldest friends (of over 30 years), invited us to their home for dinner that night, only (once there) to find it their way of thanking me for my service.

I was – am – taken aback. It was like when you adamantly tell everyone you don’t want any birthday celebration or presents and, yet, you walk into a room to “Surprise!” and find yourself celebrated and present-ed, nonetheless. How to respond? Graciously and with heartfelt thanks, recognizing that in spite of one’s own wants, that one must yet yield to the wants of others who feel they need to tell you that you are special to them. It is a need not to be taken lightly. Therefore, in turn, you accept it, because you truly treasure their affection for you, as they are also special to you.

So (you may well ask), what’s my issue with Veteran’s Day? Well, if it was just linked to wars of national survival – oh, say, WWII – I wouldn’t complain. But, arguably, all the other wars we as a people have fought have not been for the issue of survival, per se, they have been for ideological (political) reasons, or for profit (economic gains), or for territorial expansion (hubris). The Revolutionary War and our Civil War were for both political and economic reasons; the War of 1812 was political, and territorial; the Indian Wars were territorial and for profit; the Spanish American War was territorial and for profit; WWI was political (we wanted to be seen as a player in the international arena); the Korean “War” was purely ideological; the Viet Nam conflict was both ideological and for profit; and the various wars, conflicts and interventions since, principally in the Middle East, have been political and for profit.

We, that is, the United States, were born in war and have waged war endlessly to this very day. Who can say what we – or the world – would be like if we hadn’t? Maybe more the worse-off if we hadn’t. Maybe better-off. There’s no way of telling, there’s no way to go back, try a different approach, to find out.

Yet, I find war very off-putting. Abhorrent. Especially if it’s waged for any reason other than pure survival.

“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 are 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 life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.”

― Dwight D. Eisenhower

Just think about what we humans could have – could still – achieve if we – collectively – put our resources to people, science, industry instead of war.

Because, with war it’s five steps back for every one forward. And there’s a moral issue in that, as well.

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.

Money better spent not on just our own domestic needs, but also foreign-aid programs that help stabilize peoples and nations that, in extremis, feel their only recourse is to go to war if they are to survive. But we can’t do that, can we?

That’s why I haven’t been able to give myself to Veteran’s Day. While I honor the men and women who have given their time and service, even lives…to honor Veteran’s Day I’ve felt is to give my tacit and overt approval to war and it’s self-centeredness and ego-centrism. That I haven’t felt I could do.

But I can be thankful to my friends, in spite of it all. As Mennonite-raised, they were reared in the belief that war is an ultimate evil, something to be avoided (if possible). But those that (for whatever reasons) found themselves fighting in war are not to be judged. By my friend’s example, I might have to rethink my position on Veteran’s Day.

My friends have left footprints in my heart.

– Bill

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