A Pacifist Salute to Veterans

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I am a pacifist. I have not supported a single one of the American wars fought during my lifetime. 

I was born just after the Korean War, grew up during the Vietnam War, was a mother of military-eligible kids during the first Iraq War and a grandmother by the time of the Afghanistan and next Iraq Wars. In between have been several dozen shorter wars and states of war. Then add in"No fly zones" and drone strikes wherever they happen, legally wars as well.

Not a one of these wars has brought peace and security, neither at home nor in the lands that were reluctant hosts to our warring. When we left Vietnam, the Vietcong -- our foes -- united the country. We destabilized both Afghanistan and Iraq and created a worse monster in ISIS than the ones we were fighting. So many deaths, ours and theirs.

I actively protested the Vietnam War as a teen. I actively protested both Iraq Wars as well, though more with ink and less with shoe leather. I believed then and believe now that by trying to prevent unnecessary wars, I was doing what I could for our kids in the military. When I saw the movie Platoon so many years ago, I cried because we'd tried so hard to protect our young men from the horrors depicted.

Yet people I know and love fought in each of these conflicts. They weren't able to determine when or where to fight, the terms of engagement or the tools they'd have at their disposal. They surrendered their freedoms to the military branches and did the best they could. Thankfully, nearly all close to me returned home though too many were traumatized and continued to suffer for years.

For me, pacifism doesn't mean you never fight. Just 99% of the time. A "Just War" I would support in a heartbeat. Though the definition has evolved over the millenia, the Catholic Church's conditions work for me:
  • the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain
  • all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective
  • there must be serious prospects of success
  • the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated (the power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition)
Which brings me to my veteran friends and the day we honor all veterans. 

Young people volunteer for the military expecting their leaders to send them into worthy combat (or to learn a trade). They are willing to be the first line of defense in such a situation. They have no control over an administration that commits them to multiple tours of duty to prolong an unjust war.

The veterans I know are the most knowledgeable and sensible about the use of force in foreign policy. Maybe they weren't at eighteen when they enlisted, but by the time they complete a few tours, they've learned. Remember that it was General Wesley Clark who led the opposition to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. And it was General Eisenhower who said:
"I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity."
Often I hear that soldiers are the ones responsible for the freedoms we have. Given the brutal, futile, stupid wars that have been fought by our nation since Eisenhower's day, I cannot credit those wars or the soldiers sent to fight them for preserving my freedoms. I credit the Civil Rights Movement. I credit protesters. I credit activists. I credit feminists. I credit the ACLU. I credit even, sometimes, the Supreme Court. 

But I certainly can envision a war where our freedoms here were at stake, rather like the Civil War long before my day. If not for soldiers, leaders and a whole lot of bravery -- and a lot of brutality and stupidity -- freedom would have been denied to so many. I can also look at World War II and the atrocities that did not move us to enter that war, but which ended only when we did prevail. World War I, on the other hand? Brutal, futile, stupid in Ike's words.

I honor veterans on Veteran's Day not because of the achievements of the
wars they fought. Those wars were mistakes. I honor them because of what they were willing to sacrifice: their individual freedom, their family lives, their health, even their mortality. I also honor those who have devoted their lives to opposing war, some of them veterans and others not.

To all my veteran friends, Veteran's Day is your day. I appreciate you. Let's oppose unjust wars together.