Memorial Day

This past Memorial Day holiday I read a few articles written by veterans that prompted more than the usual amount of thought about the meaning of the Holiday – or rather our responsibility on this holiday. One article cited the fact that more active duty US servicemen have died in the past year from suicide than by combat. Mental health professionals speculate that the multiple deployments into highly stressful combat situations (where actual combat was unpredictable and combatants often disguised as civilians) has exacted a terrible toll on soldiers. One thing is not speculation: the failure to recognize and provide adequate treatment to help our veterans has made the problem far worse.

I talked with a friend of mine who had served during the Viet Nam Era. When he was discharged and returned to attend college at the University of Michigan his experiences had already made him feel “different”. His wardrobe of fatigues identified him as a target for the occasional derisive comment, or more commonly, the silent stares. He tried to take shelter one day at the local VFW Hall in Ann Arbor, only to be refused a beer because he had “lost the war”. He spent his entire college experience nearly completely isolated. The only normal college experience was singing “The Victors” when the Wolverines scored a touchdown. There were thousands of veterans like him, not only on college campuses but across the spectrum of life in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Veterans of American wars have always felt changed, if not alienated, when they return home. It’s part of the war experience that the human mind can’t really comprehend. Historically veterans of every major war have had to make it back pretty much on their own, with the notable exception of WWII veterans. When my father was discharged from the service the Country provided him, and every veteran, a college education, a guaranteed mortgage and a Veteran’s Hospital system that rivaled the best medical centers in the Country. Today, veterans can get barely 2 years college tuition from their benefits, VA loans are difficult to get, and the VA Hospital system has been allowed to deteriorate to Third World Country status.

I came to the conclusion this past weekend that Memorial Day was a responsibility to those of us who have not served in the armed forces. It should be an occasion when we all take a hard look at what we need to DO for our veterans and not just express a perfunctory “thanks” as we barbeque and toss back a beer. Take some time this week and write your Representative or Senator and demand that the military budget for HUMAN costs and benefits be increased. It takes maybe 15 minutes of your day, compared to a lifetime that vets have given us.

One Response to Memorial Day

  1. Patricia Jankowski says:

    Very well said.

    War is the ultimate disconnection. It is a state of total alienation with oneself and one’s “enemy”, who are both really the same.

    The idea that it is ever necessary is an illusion. However, the idea that it is necessary seems real to us because it is, like so many illusions, a part of the human experience. We fight wars because we do not yet understand our own true power, and so we seek a power that is external, and false.

    Buddhist monk, Thich Naht Hahn, once said that all conflict is the result of misunderstanding, and I believe he is right.

    And war is not about understanding. It is about power and its tool for gaining that power is exploitation.

    Those who are exploited the most in war are the soldiers. We send them to fight for our “freedom”, and then they are separated from us and are alienated by us, and we by them, when they return. They are a reminder to us of our own inner violence and disconnection.

    We are afraid of them because WE sent them there.

    But no one ever gains “freedom” by sending someone else to fight a battle for them, because true freedom can only come from personal responsibility. And when we, as a species, finally realize this, there will be no further need for war.

    There have been wars during my lifetime which I did not support, but never could I turn my back on a soldier. Soldiers were sent to war on my behalf, whether I supported that war, or not. They were sent to fight instead of me, for someone else’s ideas about “freedom”. They are probably the most exploited individuals in the world, and as such, they deserve not only our respect, but our mercy.

    They deserve to return home to a new path of healing.

    We have come to a point in human history where it is becoming imperative that we find alternatives to war as a means of solving conflict, because we are now capable of destroying our entire species and the planet itself, many times over.

    War itself has already changed drastically from what it was in earlier times, and soldiers do not fight in hand-to-hand combat, but instead with impersonal computerized technology and sometimes with paid mercenaries hired by huge corporations by their sides (See “Iraq for Sale”). But ultimately, the attempt to disguise or dissolve personal responsibility in these costumes will fail, and mankind will have to face itself at the fork in the road…where either he destroys himself entirely, or begins the journey to his own healing.

    In essence, we must one day realize that we are all soldiers, and we are all responsible.

    My hope is that, one day, Memorial Day will represent to us a day to have only the memory of war, because it no longer exists.

    And all of us, as soldiers, will fight only with ourselves to remain on the path of true freedom.

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