It’s 99 years since the war to end all wars ended on November 11, 1917 on a rail car in in the forest of Compiègne, France. Veterans Day, known originally Armistice Day, which began in 1919 and became a legal holiday in 1938. It was after WW2 when a campaign was started to change the …
Tag: Veterans Day
Steve used to spend many hours at our home with my son practicing tae kwon do, walking a tight rope and doing various other annoying things.
Actually none of the martial arts and athletic stunts were annoying but Steve could be. If I had only known more about his family… Well let’s not go there.
Steve went into Special Forces. My son chose to become a sissy Navy nuke. Hard to say who was most foolish but Steve had the most adventures.
Steve was in a wheelchair for months and told he would never walk again. Steve was eagerly pursuing his lifelong ambition to be an artist now that he could when he somehow managed to walk again. Intractable pain in his back will probably last for a lifetime but, hey, what do you expect when you enlist?
Steve was once court-martialed and imprisoned for years for breaking most everything to break in a Korean officer’s body when the Korean sought to enforce an illegal command with a pistol to Steve’s ear. His family always knew Steve was no good but the Army didn’t. Months after the affair had blown over, Steve had his rank, pay and status quietly restored.
After leaving the Army, Steve became a professional sky diver. I didn’t know there was such a thing as a professional sky diver but Steve is or was one.
At least one time, an adventure as a skydiver matched any combat in wars we never fought. Steve landed in a lake after tangling with a tree and was unable to free himself from the parachute and back pack. As recounted by my son, Steve strained to get an occasional breath of air. A five-year-old on the way from the drop talked about one man in a lake to his father as they were on their way home. Steve was rescued after an hour or two. He thought he was a goner, Steve told my son.
Steve whines some on occasion about lost records of wars never fought, like other Special Forces recruits and even this “peacetime” Vietnam veteran, but this is a day for generals and admirals and chickenhawks who held our coats and sent us off to war. Some of us are just too dumb to learn. I will thank you for not mentioning it.
How do I not be
My identity defined by my life’s shame?
For being the sum of my experience
Ignorant of events
Until survival made knowledge irrelevant
I feel like a brittle leaf
Pinned on a twig by the wind
Rustling helplessly to be freed
Before I crumble in the breeze
It is a tender spot
Healed and cushioned by time
‘Til it becomes a mere plot
In some dope-induced war story
But it smarts at the touch
Of rough-skinned rhetoric
And it aches a warning
Of impending storms
I am a prophet by pain
I have the wisdom of the afflicted
I’ve posted this diary in several forms in several places over the years. It still seems relevant, particularly on Veterans Day…
Ok, let me get my reservations out up front. As can readily be seen from my blog-moniker, I am someone whose self-identification is based on a period in my life of two years ten months and twenty-two days duration that ended some forty years ago. So, yes, I have used the fact of being a Vietnam veteran to give myself some small amount of status in the blogoshpere; after all, “Leftvet” has a bit more potential cache than, say, “Leftout” or “Leftbank” or “Leftfield”. Perhaps what I like most is that what I have to say often presents a contrast to what most people expect to hear from veterans. Veterans in American society, after all, have traditionally played the role of cheerleaders for the next war. I, for one, have always refused to pick up the pompoms.
In recent days, I have recognized yet again that some people crave surety and certainty. They believe in, and seem to need a definite answer phrased in absolute terms. Beyond the biological and even theological implications of this system is the reality. Rational sense alone has frequently been disregarded for stubborn need. Thought it may not be our role to pass judgment, lest we be judged in kind, we eagerly take it in any case. When we are not the best stewards of our own perspective, the nastiness of our ideological allegiance reinforces our separation.
On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, 11.11.09, I caught a couple of important discussions in the continuing known by us veterans are the results of wars and occupations of choice, or any war and occupation, as to the veterans and military personal once they’ve been sent to serve in and then return home, most being discharged from their service obligation after serving the time they signed up for, all at that point or later becoming the veterans of their service.
This first one is just a news report I happened upon but hits on the issue many of us are long time advocates of and adds to the rest posted below it.
This holiday, which denotes the eleventh day of the eleventh month was once called Armistice Day, as it marked the end of hostilities during World War I. It is unfortunate, in my opinion, that our collective memory of that conflict grows fainter and fainter with each passing year, since it marked the exact instant we grew from a second-tier promising newcomer on the world stage to a heavy hitter. The European continent had threatened to blow itself up for centuries before then, but with a combination of ultra-nationalism and mechanized slaughter, millions upon millions of people perished in open combat. Our entrance into the war and world theater turned the tide but the original zeal that characterized the war’s outset had become a kind of demoralizing weariness that our fresh troops and tools of the trade exploited to win a resounding victory. Our industries revived Europe, making us wealthy in the process, and though much of this wealth was lost in The Great Depression, precedent had been set. When Europe blew itself apart once more in World War II, their loss was our gain.
A year ago today I was at Mount Vernon, enjoying a day off at George Washington’s home, taking in the iconic and beautiful view of the Potomac river. Along with the steady stream of tourists like myself were servicemen and women from every branch of the Armed Forces. A ceremony at our first President’s tomb commemorating the bravery of all who had served was to be held mid-day and, deciding I’d watch it for a while, I began moving in the direction of the Washington burial plot. What ringed the tomb was often more interesting than the main attraction. Case in point, the burial site of the estate’s slaves, which had been given posthumous mention, though the names, dates of birth, dates of death, and individual stories had long since been lost to posterity. I mused a bit that this was how most Americans living today felt about the Great War.
The scene struck a discordant note with me in another way. It’s the same on-one-hand, but on-the-other-hand kind of conflicting emotional response that underlies my thinking about war and those who engage in it. If I am to follow the teachings of my faith, war is never an option to be considered for even half a second. Indeed, if it were up to me, I’d gladly abolish it from the face of the earth. However, I never want to seem as though I am ungrateful or unappreciative of those who put themselves in one hellish nightmare situation after another as a means of a career and with the ultimate goal to protect us. It is this same discomforting soft shoe tap dance that I take on when I pause to give reverence to the memories of those who established and strengthened our nation, while recognizing too that they were indebted to a practice I consider deplorable.
I would never describe hypocrisy as a kind of necessary element in our society, but a “do as I say, not as I do” quotient that seems to be commonplace in our lives does merit recognition. For example, quite recently a friend of mine who had lived in France for several months was describing to me the cultural differences in attitude towards sex in our culture versus theirs. Here, we are indebted to a hearty Puritanism which shames those who engage and scolds those who make no attempt to conceal. Yet, we still think nothing of eagerly consenting to casual sex and our media and advertising reflect this. As it was explained to me, in France, sex is everywhere, no one feels as though a highly public display is the least bit out of place or vulgar, no one feels guilty at its existence, but they are much less inclined towards hooking up with complete strangers or faintly known acquaintances than we are. It is certainly interesting to contemplate whether we’d sacrifice the right to one-night-stands or the promise of frequent escapades if after doing so we would henceforth face no repercussions of guilt and strident criticism for daring to see sexuality as something more than a weakness of willpower and a deficit of character. One wonders if we would sacrifice achieving something with nearly inevitable consequences attached for the sake of not getting what we want whenever we want it. The trade off, of course, being we would no longer have to feel dirty or ashamed for having base desires.
I mention this paradox in particular because the national past-time these days might be the sport of calling “gotcha”, particularly in politics. The latest philandering politician is revealed for the charlatan he is and our reactions and responses are full of fury and righteous indignation. “How dare he!” Granted, one party does seem to act as though it has a monopoly on conventional morality, but if it were my decision to make, I’d drop that distinction altogether, else it continue to backfire. Yet, this doesn’t mean we ought to take a more European approach, whereby one assumes instantly that politicians will be corrupt and will cheat, so why expect anything otherwise. Still, we ought to take a more realistic approach towards our own flaws and the flaws of our leaders instead of adhering to this standard of exacting perfection which has created many a workaholic and many a sanctimonious personal statement. To the best of my reckoning, we must be either a sadistic or a masochistic society at our core. Perhaps we are both.
It is easy for us to make snap judgments. I have certainly been guilty of it myself. Taken to an extreme, I can easily stretch the pacifist doctrine of the peace church of which I am a member. I can imply that military combat of any sort is such an abomination that everyone who engages in it is beholden to great evil and deserves precisely what he or she gets as a result. This would be an unfair, gratuitous characterization to make. Though I do certainly find war and warfare distasteful, I prefer to couch my critique of the practice in terms of the psychological and emotional impact upon those who serve and in so doing speak with compassion regarding those civilians in non-combat roles who get caught in the middle and have to live with the consequences. Likewise, I would be remiss if I dismissed the role George Washington played in the formation of our Union if I reduced him to an unrepentant slaveholder and member of a planter elite who held down the struggling Virginia yeoman farmer. Moreover, I could denigrate the reputation of Woodrow Wilson, whose leadership led to our victory in the First World War, by pointing to his unapologetic beliefs in white supremacy and segregation. I could mine the lives of almost everyone, my own included, and find something distasteful but somewhere along the line we need to remember that hating the sin does not meant we ought to hate the sinner, too.
The conflict swirling around us at this moment is just as indebted to paradox as the sort which existed during the lives of any of these notable figures in our history. John Meacham wrote,
…[T]he mere fact of political and cultural divisions—however serious and heartfelt the issues separating American from American can be—is not itself a cause for great alarm and lamentation. Such splits in the nation do make public life meaner and less attractive and might, in some circumstances, produce cataclysmic results. But strong Presidential leadership can lift the country above conflict and see it through.
This is what we are all seeking. While I am not disappointed by President Obama, I see a slow, deliberative approach to policy that is alternately thoughtful and exasperating. I certainly appreciate his contemplative, intellectual approach, and can respect it even when I disagree with its application. One of the paradoxical tensions that typify the office of Chief Executive or any leadership role, for that matter, is the balance between power and philosophy. Meacham again writes,
…Politicians generally value power over strict intellectual consistency, which leads a president’s supporters to nod sagely at their leader’s creative flexibility and drives his opponents to sputter furiously about their nemesis’s hypocrisy.
If ever was a national sin, hypocrisy is it. It is the trump card in the decks of many players and it is used so frequently that one can hardly keep track of the latest offender. If it were not everywhere and in everyone, it would not be such a familiar weapon. Even if one has to split-hairs to do it, one can always locate hypocritical statements or behaviors. Politics can often be an exercise in pettiness, and the latest bickering between Republicans, Democratic, liberals, center-left moderates, conservatives, and center-right moderates have morphed into this same counter-productive swamp of finger-pointing. It is this attitude which keeps voters home and leads to further polarization. Securing Democratic seats and a healthy majority in next year’s elections will require rejuvenation of the base but also inspiring moderate and independent voters to even bother to turn out to the polls. What this also means is that we ought to learn how to forgive ourselves for our shortcomings and recognize the humanity in our opponents as well. A scorched-earth strategy works for the short term, but it also guarantees a ferocity in counter-attacks and leads to long-term consequences only visible in hindsight. By all means, fight for what one believes, but eschewing tact and diplomacy is the quickest way to both live by the sword and die by it. I’m not suggesting toughness or steel-spines ought to be discarded, but rather that we all have weaknesses of low hanging fruit that make for an easy target, and the instant we eviscerate our opponent by robbing their trees, we should soon expect a vicious counter-attack in our own arbor.
Below is just a small group of articles and reports coming in on this Veterans Day 2009. Some about Veterans Day, some about Veterans older and to the present, some about todays Veterans and Soldiers. Much will be said today, much seen, some will even think about, some.
While important it isn’t so much about what will be said or done by our political leaders, it’s really more about how the greater majority in this country who don’t serve, don’t want to really sacrifice, but are quick to use those who do, and their families, then quickly move away from their false meme’s when it comes time to actually heed the calls for the funds to pay for the results of our occupations of choice. And as always by not heeding those calls for sacrifice it ends up causing more suffering by those who’ve suffered enough for country and much much more in the costs of the results of their service!
Across the country, there’s a movement quietly taking shape to reclaim November 11 as a day of peace.
What is now called Veterans Day was originally designated in the US as Armistice Day, the day that World War I ended at 11 a.m. on 11/11. In the UK and elsewhere, it is also known as Remembrance Day or Poppy Day.
I just got home from the big NYC Veterans Day Parade.
The “we” in the title is the crew of anti-war veterans and friends who have had a presence in the parade since the war began. Our contingent was led by members of Iraq Veterans Against the War carrying American flags. Among the others reporting for duty were at least three area chapters of Veterans For Peace (including mine, NYC’s Chapter 34), Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Military Families Speak Out and a group memorializing the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (whose actual veterans are now too few and too old to join us as they had in years past).
Don’t get me wrong. Our whole contingent totaled under fifty people and we were by a considerable margin the scruffiest and least military looking one in the whole parade.
And quite possibly the best received.
We were toward the rear of the march. While the organizers didn’t, this time, slot us at the very end, they put a very loud sound truck with a deejay directly behind us and forbade us to carry any signs or posters other than organizational banners.
Nice try. They neglected to amputate the fingers with which we all made the peace sign and to remove our vocal cords. So anti-war chants, especially the cadences led by Ben Chitty, echoed in the valley of Fifth Avenue the whole way from 27th Street to 55th. Meanwhile, marchers on both sides of the contingent directed a steady stream of explanatory slogans and talk to those watching.
Now, Veterans Day doesn’t draw the crowd you’ll find at Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or on the rare occasion when a New York sports team wins something, but we didn’t pass a single block that wasn’t at least half full of spectators.
And we were overwhelmingly greeted with peace signs, thumbs up, clapping and enthusiastic yells. It was striking. Even people who went out of their way to attend a Veterans Day parade, and an awful lot of them were veterans themselves, were thrilled to see and hear us voicing their own feelings:
Bring Them Home Now!
The people of this country want this war over and they want it over yesterday. It is up to us to keep the heat on those now in power–and on those who will, blessedly, take their place in 70 days–to bring this fiasco to an end. So I encourage you, in the strongest possible terms, to observe the Iraq Moratorium one week from this coming Friday. You can act by yourself or with others, but please do something to observe the first antiwar mobilization since the election which will be national in scope.
The Whole Countries Responsibility, Not Singular Groups!!!
While this was a Great Gesture, on the part of the Redskins Organization teaming up with other Advocacy Groups, this is much more than a one day need. We who serve don’t serve for singular organizations We Serve The Country and an Oath and Contract is made for our service. It is the Responsibility, Every Day, for the Country Served to aid our Brothers and Sisters who have given much more than just their Service, Physically and Mentally, because of these Wars of Choice!!