Veterans as Heroes and Humans
Respect Veterans! They served our country! They’re our National Heroes! As someone who leans towards pacifism, I always feel awkward on Veteran’s Day, and so I usually don’t comment. Advocates for peace are often accused of being unpatriotic, or of being disrespectful or ungrateful towards veterans. The accusation that hippies back in the 60’s called men returning from Vietnam “babykillers” lingers in the air, though outside of a few fanatics, I doubt its veracity. In contrast to all these myths, I respect veterans as human beings with a particular set of life experiences- experiences that all too often, we don’t want to listen to or learn from.
Today I found an article that perfectly explained how I feel about Veteran’s Day, and American society’s distorted view of veterans in general.
I think emphasizing the humanity of veterans is all the more important because military training, by its very nature dehumanizes people- it is designed to break down individuality, independent thought, and questioning tendencies. It’s a matter of survival in warfare, I understand that. Second-guessing orders could get you and your team members killed. Yet depending on what the orders are, and the current politics, following them might mean later being declared a hero- or a war criminal. The regular laws of society are suspended during wartime, and as I learned studying international relations in college, other laws apply instead- to me this seems even more arbitrary than civil laws. This is justifiable “collateral damage”, and this isn’t. This is a country defending itself, but when another country does the same thing, they’re a “rogue nation”. After the dust settles and the dead are counted, then we decide who’s to blame for not following the laws of war. Who’s guilty of “crimes against humanity”? We all are. Not just the soldiers and the generals. We idealize veterans to honor them, in theory, but really we are distancing ourselves from them. We all have blood on our hands, whether we’ve picked up a gun, or programmed a drone or not. We pay the taxes, we elect the leaders that send our young men and women off to war. Billions are spent stopping the latest bugaboo in some distant, miserable country. Then they come back, and we can’t look them in the eye. We want to “honor” them, but our society doesn’t have a concept of honor. We know only shame. Shame for the poor, unemployed, homeless, sick and mentally ill. If they don’t gracefully jump thru the hoops of capitalism, to transition into a place of respectability, then they too get shame. Let’s look again, to regain our sense of humanity- for all of us, whether our background is military or not. Violence is part of our nature as human beings. But so is caring for each other.
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