Veteran’s Day came and went this week with the usual mix of letters to the editor. But this year, the hawks seem muted and the sorrow heavier as we approach the end of the fifth year of the war in Iraq – the deadliest year so far.
For folks who are in middle-age (like me), we can clearly define the generations we’ve known by their wars. Our grandfathers fought in WWII, our fathers in Korea, our older brothers in Vietnam, our spouses in Desert Storm, and now our children in Iraq. One of the boys my sons played flag football with died there this year.
I have struggled to find a way to “celebrate” Veteran’s Day with some integrity. How does one celebrate the love, self-sacrifice and courage required of young people willing to give their lives for something greater than themselves – “freedom” as the story goes. And at the same time, recognize the endless procession of this craziness whereby adults (us) continue to do this to our sons and daughters? We make the mistakes again and again; our greed and self-service, our short-sightedness and apathy keep leading us to where we finally tell the time-worn, Big Lie. We bless the troops and send our sons and daughters off to give their lives for (this time) cheap oil, our unsustainable lifestyle, and revenge – because we can, because it thrills us to be high and mighty, because… God only knows why we keep doing it over and over again through generations.
I read a short piece in Utne Reader this week by Patrick Hicks, a professor at Augustana College in South Dakota. Somehow it captured both things – the love we have for our “troops” and the gut-wrenching sorrow we have to have for what we’re doing to them. Again. Read it here. This is the poem he refers to. It’s Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen – a British soldier who died at 25 during the final days of the First World War, “the war to end all wars.”