OPINION – Why do we venerate our warriors? And in doing so, are we celebrating war?
As I sit here in one of those everyday places I frequent, I am in the midst of a conversation that began at the Veterans Day Parade Monday in St. George and lingers today in my conscious and perhaps the collective conscious of many Americans, even those of our veterans.
To some, it might seem that to raise these questions in the wake of ceremony is unpatriotic and ungrateful. But I am neither.
The warrior is one of our most valued national treasures. The warrior has not always been treated kindly by the citizenry, our veterans of the Vietnam conflict can readily speak to this.
It is not the warrior that I propose we scrutinize, but the policy makers and leaders who send them into battle.
In my conversations on this topic, I find veterans who agree, veterans who have served as our warriors and who, more than anyone, have the right and the experience to question the necessity of war.
It goes without question that we support those who defend us, those who hold the line. But now, perhaps more than ever, we need to question those who draw the lines of battle in the first place.
A recent article published in Salon gave me some insight into the origin of the holiday. It said:
In a country that uses every possible occasion to celebrate its ‘warriors,’ many have forgotten that today’s holiday originally marked a peace agreement. Veterans Day in the United States originally was called Armistice Day and commemorated the ceasefire which, at 11 a.m. on November 11, 1918, ended the First World War.
How is it that a day to commemorate peace has transformed into a day to simply celebrate the military?
Sun Tzu said the purpose of war is peace. Is that our purpose?
When I was a senior in high school I visited the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, a monument to World War I. It was there that I had my eyes somewhat opened to the futility of war. Although it did not quench my sense of patriotism or prevent me from volunteering to serve, I went forward with a certain degree of cynicism and trepidation.
It was called the war to end all wars. We now know that this simply was not so. Perhaps not possible.
There are two Assyrian Sphinxes that guard the south entrance of the Liberty Memorial. “Memory” faces east toward the battlefields of France, shielding its eyes from the horrors of war. “Future” faces west, shielding its eyes from an unknown future.
I stood there looking at these symbols that embodied the phrase that says “men who forget their history are doomed to repeat it.”
Much like a news story that is reported, read, and forgotten in a day’s time, the wars we have fought become less “lessons to be learned from” and more “mistakes to be repeated.”
And it is our youngest, best, and brightest who hold the lines, some of who hardly have the experience in life to completely comprehend what it is they are fighting for. Freedom is perhaps the best and most widely accepted answer to that question.
But could we seriously now argue that the occupation in Afghanistan, now in its second decade, is really just about defending freedom?
As the young men of the high school’s junior ROTC – a military training corps that prepares young men and women for service – walked by in the Veterans Day Parade I could not help but think of this.
And I thought of what one veteran of Afghanistan said: That we have more in common with the people of Afghanistan than we do with the billionaires and politicians who start our wars should tell us something.
So, on the one hand, I am filled with a somewhat ambiguous pride in our military who deserve all the accolades they get for holding our lines, and on the other hand I am incited to outrage over the arbitrary and capricious manner with which they are put on that line in the first place.
If we want to truly honor our warriors could we not do so by being more vigilant citizens, by scrutinizing more vigorously the motives behind our leaders who put our finest in harms way?
Happy belated Veterans Day, from a fellow American and veteran.
See you out there.
Dallas Hyland is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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