My only personal connection to the wars we are fighting is that I have cousin who served in Afghanistan. A few months ago, his mom posted a picture on Facebook of him on a stopover in Ireland to home. He was with his buddies, drinking Guinness, and looking happy. I was taken aback by the flood of relief that pulsed through me upon seeing that he was alive and well and homebound.
My own cousin was deployed in Afghanistan and I never bothered to find out much about his experience. I don’t know what his role was, or if he saw combat. I don’t know what his days were like and I don’t know how he feels about the wars, or what kind of man military service has made of him.
In 2007, he was getting ready to graduate high school and to join the military when our grandmother died. I remember sitting with him in his living room as he talked about joining as a machinist so he wouldn’t see combat, that it would be safe. I knew machinists aren’t kept from combat, so I cautiously urged him to seek out other careers. I don’t recall his exact words, but he said something to the effect of, “I’m not cut out for school and I’m good at working on trucks and cars. I can do what I like, learn some stuff, and get paid for it.” He said his parents didn’t want him to join either, but I could tell he was set to do it.
Looking back, I was glad his motivations were of a practical, and not idealist, nature. He wasn’t joining because he thought what we were doing over there was morally right. There was that.
But where do I get off thinking there are better reasons to join than others? Why do I get to be so morally superior to those who support our wars? And what purpose does it serve?
What I feel in my bones is that too many thousands of our soldiers have died over the last decade fighting in wars I’m pretty sure we can’t win. We teach our young people to kill, and the expect them to be more or less ok when they come home. We put them on long deployments, because that’s what you have to do with a volunteer army in a war that lasts a decade and longer, and pray they will one day be able to enter back into society completely able to function. We demand so, so much of our soldiers and their families and I don’t think we can ever pay them back for what we’ve put them through. For those who die in service or are severely injured or traumatized, we offer them… Memorial Day? Veterans Day? Honor? Thanks? It will never be enough.
On this Memorial Day, I’ve thought off and on about the growing debt of apology we owe to our dead. I think war is wrong all of the time. But in the end, I am humbled by anyone who puts their life on the line in military service. I am not willing to do this, which means that, perhaps, in not so direct a way, some soldier’s deployment is extended or renewed. It means that they will spend more time over there, and have a higher likelihood of being killed or injured. This, because most of us who have less potentially lethal options choose not to join the military.
I have spent the last decade believing that when we tell our soldiers that they are fighting and dying to protect our freedoms on the home front, we are being naive or disingenuous at best, lying at worst. They are fighting because it’s profitable and we don’t want to leave as losers.
But today, I see that I am, at least, partially wrong. I do get to live this life in part because I don’t have to fight in our wars. As long as our political and military leaders demand we stay in these prolonged conflicts, they need people to fight them. And it won’t be me.
So I extend to all those souls that have left this plane after suffering death in military service my sincere admiration and respect. We are all tied together. I will try to live my full, wonderful life in appreciation for the opportunities that can no longer be yours, which I have been given. I will work for peace and the end of war as much as I can. Hopefully, this will do some justice to your sacrifice.