I know that Veterans Day is about the men and women who have served our country and not about the men and women who have sent them into hostile territory. But those who serve and those who send them are always inextricably connected. And those of us who sit back and enjoy our day-to-day lives without the life-altering interruptions of military service are connected as well.
All of us who are in a position to benefit or lose from our country’s involvement in war—in other words, all of us—should be honoring our soldiers—past, present and future—by asking difficult questions and not accepting the face value answers that are given by those in power. History tells us that the true motives for war are rarely the motives that the American people have been ushered toward believing.
Shouldn’t we demand that our present and future soldiers only be sent into harm’s way for noble purposes? How do we even go about doing this when the ears of those in power seem so out of our reach? How do we define what is noble when the truth is not made available for our weighing? I guess we start by doing what we can, by educating ourselves about our government’s interests in the region at stake. We ask who is calling the shots. Are they sending our people to wars in order to protect America’s freedoms or are they sending them to grow the profits of huge corporations? Are we being led to believe that our freedom is in jeopardy from outside forces when in fact the greatest threats to our freedom are here, inside our borders?
If we find that we don’t like the reasons our soldiers are being sent to war, then what?
I will not pretend to understand the complicated military systems or the reasons behind every action that is taken in the name of national security, but I do know that behind those gigantic decisions are everyday people—people who are willing to put their lives on the line for a country that they love.
Absolutely and without doubt, I respect and honor the men and women who have signed up to serve our country. But the skeptic in me wonders if America is a better place as a result of our recent wars. Have the injuries, the deaths, the difficulties of returning to civilian life been worth it? What about the terrible memories, the PTSD, the high number of suicides among veterans? In reality, have the American people benefitted from these wars? Have the benefits outweighed the losses? If the American people have not benefitted, then who has? Our military men and women signed up to serve our country. Are the recent wars being fought for our security, for our way of life, for our freedom? Or do these wars go on and on and on because a few are reaping an incredible profit?
I celebrate our nation’s veterans. I respect the commitment they’ve made to this country. But honoring them fully requires asking difficult questions–not of the veterans themselves, but of those who send them into war. And I have to ask myself a few difficult questions as well. When I believe the motives for war are wrong, when I believe the means for carrying out the missions are wrong, what am I to do? It’s easiest to set those thoughts aside, to defer to the experts. It’s easiest to be thankful that the wars are in distant lands. But today, as I’m considering our nations veterans and the true sacrifices they have made, I am thinking of the letters I have not written, the phone calls I have not made. I am struck by how easy it is to pretend that war is other people’s problem.