Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veteran's Day: Swords Into Ploughshares

I hate guns. I hate war. I hate violence, whether physical or emotional. I protested the War in Vietnam. I have been enraged by our unjustified invasion of Iraq. I have been troubled by our actions in Afghanistan.

Dianne at Forks off the Moment has posted eloquent words from war vets and a segment of one of my favorite ever poems, Dulce et Decorum, which was written during World War One by Wilfred Owens, who later died in that same war. The final line translates to "It is sweet and right to die for one's country." The poem, which references the poison gas used in WWI, reads as follows:

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped5 Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

8 October 1917 - March, 1918

When I was young - unlike most young people - I tended to see things in shades of gray, probably because I was raised - and because it was my nature - to always try to put myself in the other person's shoes. In recent years I have grown more black and white, more polarized in my way of thinking and yet now I seem to be receding to shades of gray again. Second childhood? I don't know.

I know that I still hate war. I think it seldom does good. It just leaves dead and wounded in its wake. Seems to me that as with our children, our politicians and we ourselves give lots of lip service to how much we care but much less practical action. We care so much about our children but we underpay teachers and underfund education. We care so much about our soldiers but we send them into unrighteous wars, we send them under equipped and in recent days we send them for inhuman tours of duty that even the most grounded and stable human would have trouble enduring emotionally (forget physically) undamaged. We talk about supporting our troops, but we let them go without adequate psychological and physical care. We let them end up homeless and living on our streets. But we have a "day" for them and we say nice things about how swell they are and go on with our lives. We don't think much about h0w they are underpaid for what they do (I think this even though I am kind of anti military at my core) . We don't think about their wives/husbands and children who struggle to buy groceries and struggle with having their families broken by distance. Although my parents remained married for over 50 years, I don't think their relationship ever completely recovered from his absence during WWII.

We haven't even seen the tip of the iceberg yet of the Post Traumatic ravages of our current wars, wounds that aren't always visible but that devastate a life as badly or worse than the loss of a limb. Whatever I think of war, the soldiers who put themselves in harm's way, have a kind of courage I would never have and they have been forced to endure a kind of suffering in our name that nobody should ever endure. The wars they have engaged in in our name also ravage the lives and spirits of citizens in the countries we have invaded. They too must cope with the emotional trauma of living wrapped in violence. We may not be to blame for all of it, but we are to blame for some of it. It belongs to the collective guilt of all humankind.

That said, I am confused about Afghanistan. I confess to some confusion about how to deal with political entities like the Taliban and Al Quaeda who seem to have made hate, violence and the abuse of women into a religion. Do we give over a society to them? If our "military" goal is to defensively create a stable economy, is that really war in the terms I think of it. The dead bodies returning home would imply that it is. But we have entered into these countries and created havoc. Don't we bear some responsibility for leaving carefully? If I walk into your house and break a bunch of things, don't I have a duty to help you clean up my mess?

In the end, I just want all the killing to stop. In Afghanistan, in Israel, in the Sudan, in countries too numerous to list. I wish we would beat our swords into plow shares and use the money we spend on bombs to feed the hungry and cure the sick, to educate the illiterate, to care for the physical and emotional wounds of those young souls we have sent into battle. I want all the hate to stop. It's so easy to justify hate, to make excuses for killing. Israel blames the Palestinians and they blame Israel. We say we'll stop when the Taliban stops. Everyone claims God is on their side. My bet is that God isn't happy about any of us. I'm pretty sure "thou shalt not kill" was one of the very first ever rules the God of every faith laid down before his/her people. Yet off we march, society after society, faith after faith, claiming that massacring other human beings is noble. It never is. Not that individual soldiers don't act from nobility of heart and with greatness of spirit. Many do. But in the end, violence is never noble, it's just ugly. In the end, it just feeds off itself and becomes self-justifying.

Still, I don't know the best answers for how to back out of violence once we have got ourselves into the pit of war. I don't know. I just want peace. And I think we could do it if we tried. We could stop killing each other. How to get from where we are to where we should be is the tricky part.

So, I'm just digging myself deeper and deeper into confusion.

On this day, I hope we don't just wave flags and say how brave our Vets are. I hope we make sure that they get physical and psychological treatment. I hope we make sure that they don't end up living on the streets. I hope we make sure that their families get enough to eat and get psychological care to help them deal with the prolonged absenses of mothers and fathers, uncles and brothers and sisters. I hope we move from words to deeds.

I should go back and reread what I have drizzled out from my fingertips, but if I do, I'll never get this posted. My apologies for any typos and more-so for any incoherence.

I guess I'll close this confused hodge-podge ramble of words with the thoughts of some veterans of our current wars:

Peace Be Unto All of Us.


Akelamalu said...

Wonderful post Raven.

I do not applaud war but I do applaud the servicemen and women who have served/serve their country.

Anndi said...

Tomorrow, there will be an unveiling of The Charter of Compassion.

From their website:

"The Charter of Compassion is a cooperative effort to restore not only compassionate thinking but, more importantly, compassionate action to the center of religious, moral and political life. Compassion is the principled determination to put ourselves in the shoes of the other, and lies at the heart of all religious and ethical systems. One of the most urgent tasks of our generation is to build a global community where men and women of all races, nations and ideologies can live together in peace. In our globalized world, everybody has become our neighbor, and the Golden Rule has become an urgent necessity."

There are many like minded people from every walk of life, maybe this is the beginning of the change we, as hummans, are looking for.

This was a lovely post, Raven.

Carletta said...

Raven I think you always do justice to the subject you're writing about and you've done so with this.
This was a time when America was collectively proud of its veterans; but sadly that doesn't seem to be the case anymore.
Let's hope Mr.Obama listens when it comes to Afghanistan.

Dianne said...

you always amaze me Raven

thank you for posting the whole poem

Janie B said...

I feel the same way, Raven. I'm worried about the toe-hold Al Quaeda and the Taliban have on Afghanistan, and how much worse it would be if we leave, but I'm more concerned about our own troops and their families. I want them home...right now. It's time for us to build up our own people, work on our economy and health care and stop spending time, money, and blood on other countries.

SouthLakesMom said...

I would love our troops to all be able to come home and not have to be anywhere else in the cause of freedom. There are, as you pointed out, some practical difficulties with that including what will happen to women in Afghanistan if we leave. Well, they'll go back to the way they were for hundreds, maybe thousands of years before any European or Americans showed up. They'll be property to be exploited and used. Similar to what was happening to entire people groups in Iraq -- Kurds, Marsh Arabs, whoever disagreed with Saddam. And what about the Jews in Europe?

These dilemmas are never clear in their morality or in the solutions, which is why we must pray for our leaders to make decisions that are God honoring.

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men to do nothing. Edmund Burke

I am incredible grateful that my grandfather, father, father-in-law, husband, brother and self have been willing to do something.

I enjoy reading the perspective of your views and others who are in agreement with you Raven, even if I don't agree with them entirely. Our ability to converse rationally and respectfully has been so eroded by the contempt exhibited by many including (unfortunately) our leaders past and present as well as journalists (including your beloved Jon Stewart) may masquerade as humor, but to people serving in uniform it feels like contempt. Trust me on this one. I was active duty during the Clinton years and every military member knew that few members of his administration would have crossed the street to spit upon us.

And, I am reminded again and again that to disagree respectfully and have thoughtful conversations is not only healthy but it's exactly why those of us who choose to serve stay in. Oh, we may start with the premise that we need a job, or education or health benefits, but we stay because we know that what we do is defend the right of people back home to say whatever they want about us, our mission, our leaders and our beliefs. We don't have to agree with it, but we're called by duty to defend it. Kind of ironic.

My dad was one of those who during the Viet Nam years was greeted with contempt. It wounded him deeply, more than any of the physical wounds he received. My husband was a West Point cadet who, when trying to get a ride into New York, was treated with contempt (they had to travel in uniform). Yet both of them continued to do what they were trained best to do -- defend this country and try to establish the same kind of framework for other countries to develop healthy government systems for vigorous respectful debate.

Veterans don't want a 'thank you' one day a year. We want to be respected year round -- just like every other American wants. And deserves.

Blessings to all.

Jennifer Ann Fox said...

I like to visit your blog randomly but this post to me is not being realistic.
My son is now in Afghanistan fighting for your freedom to speak what you just spoke. Obama is not the victim here. He ain't doing nothing but sitting on his butt and not supporting our troops. If that is not cruel enough, I don't know what is.
People think war is nice. Well, war is not nice. We should have taken care of this problem 8 years ago or even earlier and then we wouldn't be in the mess we are in today.
Obama is a shame to America right now and has brought the morale of troops to the lowest level because he is not a leader. He is very narcisitic and thinks the world rotates around him.
For 3 months, the General has asked for help. Nobody thinks war is pretty. But sometimes people have to fight back or they become doormats.
Please think objectively when you write and remember that there are those whose sons are in this war and it's for a purpose.
Like the saying goes, if you can't stand up for our troops, please feel free to stand in front of them........
sending help to our men is not a sin. It's ludicrous to think we are to sit and do nothing as our president is doing right now.