A holiday like Veteran’s Day can be kind of hard for someone like me. I am generally pretty anti-war. I hate that we spend way more money on defense then we do on education in this country. The whole military feels like a testosterone fueled machismo contest even at the same time as it’s too often an only choice for poor youth post high school.
So it can feel easier to just ignore the whole day.
But at the same time, I can’t help but think of my grandfather Alvin Robert Rabun who served in World War II with the Marines. He wasn’t a gunman, instead he worked making and serving food to soldiers in the Pacific side of the war. He was injured, losing an eye and a leg, when some kind of grenade or bomb went off next to a fox hole he was in. His pride in serving his country and in being a Marine lasted him until death.
I also can’t help but think of my father whose own military service I know very little about. I know he was mostly in Thailand and I think his service was connected to his medical education. But whatever he saw and experienced during service, he won’t talk about. Even for a man of few words, I can only imagine how horrible it must have been.
Whether by choice or by virtue of having no other alternative, people who serve in the military deserve more respect than I easily give them. It can be easy to see servicemembers as a “them” that I am not a part of. But it’s not as clear cut as all that.
A huge percentage of the military front lines are poor young adults and folks of color whose only option for continuing their education is service. They don’t pick or create the wars they fight. In fact, they often return home with un-treated health problems and a fraction of the financial and vocational support they deserve from our government.
There are hundreds of veterans who use their experience with war to advocate for peace. Other organizations try and give veterans opportunities to heal. That’s something I can surely support.
Families who have lost a loved one in the line of duty know extreme pain. I think about a COLAGE acquaintance of mine who often Facebook blogs about how hard it is to have her husband in Iraq while she is at home with their child who less than a year old. Those who worry about and love their soldiers are not the enemy and I honor their sacrifices.
So while I continue to believe that the best way we can support our troops is by bringing them home and by engaging with the world in a way that promotes peace, I want to shift my relationship to this holiday. Supporting individuals in the military isn’t the same as blind support for the military. With these reflections in mind, I can more peacefully say, Happy Veterans Day.