Note from me:
The news today carries the possibility of the U.S. sending more than 100,000 troops to the Middle East as a carrier battle group also enters the waters in an already militarily crowded part of the world.
In one sense nothing new, these things happen. In another sense, don’t we ever learn?
This is a post I wrote awhile ago but was waiting to post. It’s time.
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I’ve stood in more cold, wet, blustery November 11 weather than I can remember. Wind howling and cutting my face, the cold tightening my fingers with the chill. Motionless.
Cenotaphs, wreathes, poppies. Soldiers, politicians, families. Brothers, mothers, old men in navy and grey. Hearts and minds full of gratitude and sadness. Tears.
A lone horn draws out more tears, flags whip in the wind and flowers atrophy in the chill. Silence.
When I couldn’t get to the local community Remembrance Day service I would stop in front of the TV and stand at attention by myself; my own eyes often moistening. Remembering.
I am deeply thankful for the courage, the service, the honour, the ultimate sacrifices. I won’t let anyone say differently. Grateful.
However, just remembering, just being thankful, just pausing to feel sadness doesn’t fix the plague of war. Wasn’t peace the whole point of the blood-letting in the first place? Do poppies in a field or on a lapel just speak about death or do they call for life? Do we actually love peace and hate war or do we love peace and idolize war?
Growing up as a kid in the ’60s, I loved anything military. Combat and Rat Patrol were favourite TV shows and I watched war movies at every opportunity. I drew pictures of tanks, planes, trucks and submarines which were all configured in some victorious military manoeuvre and interestingly, most of them had American flags. I would later evolve to Canadian military vehicles. I had a realistic wood and steel bolt action rifle, a plastic automatic and an olive green army helmet. And a rubber knife.
We lived in the country so I would spend hours attacking the enemy camouflaged by the cover of trees, ridges, brush and buildings. Stained clothing, wet ditches and dirt rubbed on my face only added to the realism of my imaginary battles.
Sometimes the enemy got lucky and wounded me, usually in the left arm, but I was able to overcome them with sheer determination and skill because, well… because that’s what happens when the good guys go into battle.
We moved to the U.S. during the relentless years of the Vietnam conflict and I remember being supportive of President Nixon (yeah, that one…) and the battles on the other side of the world: communist aggression, domino-theory and all that.
However, as the years went by and the numbers in my age got bigger and the bleakness of the military draft became a possibility, tiny cracks began to show in my attitude. I still believed in the war, those protesters were just cowardly trouble-makers, but I didn’t personally want to fight in third-world rice patties and jungles. And besides, I was a Canadian so slipping back to my home country was much different than what the cowardly American draft-dodgers were doing.
But the cracks in my idealistic thoughts about war opened wide a few years later when we had a baby – a son. What kind of war would be worth having my child ship away for years to risk emotional trauma, permanent disability or death?
Some time later I would also come to the realization that other people, in other parts of the world, also love and lose their sons in conflict. And their daughters and spouses and babies and homes and food and culture and hope and everything. Many of them caught innocently in a conflict, without involvement, cattle in a clash of political wills.
More years later I would learn that the bombs and bullets and guns and armour and planes in conflicts all over the world came from various third parties and that many of those had American (or Canadian) origins.
We can afford to be militaristic – we have the wealth and the planes and the drones and can kill and ruin lives remotely in other parts of the world. Those excuses don’t make it right and won’t immunize us from it in the future.
… I knew the woman well. Her brother and a cousin had died in World War 2. For her entire life she would weep every time she saw a military vehicle or soldiers marching in a parade.
… and the elderly English couple who were young during the war and lost parents to German bombs. They wrestled with the trauma and anger their whole lives.
… and the returned soldier who would instinctively drop to the ground whenever some smirking bystander clapped their hands.
… and now we’re learning about PTSD and the staggering rates of depression, addiction, violence and suicide among fighters.
Every once in a while some news source shows a heart-warming video of a child screeching joyfully when their soldier father surprises them after being overseas for months in a war zone. It’s offered as an uplifting, feel-good story and the tears, hugs, and shouts of ‘Daddy!!!’ touch every onlooker. Including me.
Except for a different reason.
These days I get angry and have to turn away from those scenes. Here is a father who has been absent for an extended time and the child has been growing up without a daddy (or a mommy). Mom and dad will likely need to re-learn how to live together. And then he will likely leave again soon for another term of absence and stress. And maybe loss.
These days, when I see soldiers and families re-united, I hate war even more because of the unnatural separation during a time when families should be together.
I hate war. I hate evil. I hate the powers that drive it.
Is there a cost for peace? Yes, a high cost called sacrifice. Sometimes the ultimate sacrifice.
However is it possible there is a cost more expensive than the ultimate sacrifice? Is it more painful to give up our idols of pride, retribution, money and power? How many of our conflicts are about politics and economics rather than peace and safety?
Perhaps the ultimate sacrifice is a renewed mind that loves peace more than controlling or hitting back. Peace is truly hard work.
Jesus lived in a militaristic, retributive culture and was ultimately killed by it. But something much bigger and more radical emerged from the tomb when he came to life and left it.
In the next while we will look at what Jesus has to say about aggression and war.
Fair warning, you’ll want to attack me.