Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day 2009

Honor the dead, heal the wounded, end the war

As has become tradition for me, I will post the essay, "The Warrior". But first, just a few words. I honor, mourn and memorialize the victims of war everyday. On this prescribed day, many others join me. I remember the Veterans, the soldiers. Those serving and those that have served in the past. These soldiers are from the world, not just this country. I honor their families and friends as they mourn the loss of loved ones. A friend or relative of any soldier mourns their loss. I remember those that live with the hell of war right now, anywhere in this world. I remember those that have been dehumanized by war, soldiers and civilians alike. I include the Peace activists who attempt to make right what others have done wrong.

There is no "Happy" Memorial Day. There is no "Celebration". It is a remembrance, sweet and simple. The best thing to remember is to work your hardest to erase war and a society that perpetuates it.

Now, The Warrior:

Veterans are Warriors, men and women who are trained to kill, for society. Men and women who have taken the life of another human being. Even those Veterans that did not see action in the form of combat signed up or were drafted and followed orders. They would have given their life if asked. They would kill if they thought, at any brief moment in the throes of war, that they had to.

All soldiers, no matter what their military occupation is, are taught how to go to combat before learning any other skill or specialty. In basic training, these killing skills are taught to every soldier. Killing is the soldier warrior's job. The warrior is somehow stripped of the belief that life is too sacred to erase; then they are taught the details of exactly how to kill people. With a weapon, with their hands.

They are forced to practice it over and over and over and over until it is automatic, regardless of how scared they may be. Even if their hearts are pounding or if they are scared senseless, these warriors can still load, fire, and erase the life of the human being identified as the enemy. They kill, if not for themselves, for the soldier next to them who is a trained killer like them. A Brother or Sister, and for the society that has required their services as a killer.

Everyone who is trained to kill has lost something of themself and must find a way to control the imbalance that results. The military calls that control "self-discipline." Without it we would have millions of Timothy McVeigh's eliminating their perceived enemies with the lethal skills that they were trained for. These skills given to them with the approval of the rest of society. The military does not want nor allow this same “self discipline” to weigh in during the wartime activity.

We demand the Warrior be disciplined and control themselves but when they return we treat them terribly. For those who have taken a life in a war and dealt with death, this discipline is a life-long struggle that is never truly resolved. They see the dead and relive the killings in their dreams. The soldier who kills another soldier comes home and one day realizes that there is a family somewhere in the world—in its own home—lacking a cherished family member. There are children who no longer have a father, mother or brother—women without their husbands and husbands without wives. No chance to fulfil the dream of growing old together.

That soldier who took a life may look at their own children when they get home, perhaps even years later, hug that child, and think about another child whose daddy or mommy they killed. How easy it would be for his or her child to be the parentless one! That soldier, trying to become a human being again, will not know what to say to anyone on this earth about this feeling. They will wonder if anybody understands what they are feeling—if anyone can. They may be able to share this feeling only with another Veteran, yet feel ashamed at reminding that Veteran of what he or she is also struggling to deal with. Worried that if he or she talks about it, they might be judged as bragging.

The real Warrior is abandoned into silence. They fall upon the discipline that was introduced in them but they fall alone. Many Veterans forever fight this never-resolved battle.

Listen to the Vietnam War Veterans; listen to how they were received when they returned to this country. Listen to the Gulf War Vets that must fend for themselves as the very government that asks them to lay down their bodies vote down funding for proper and substantial treatment of their wounds.

In the case of the returning Vietnam Veterans, some were spat upon. Others had to withstand an onslaught of name calling that included things like baby killer and murderer. Society does not know this agent of death that is a Warrior; it does not possess the skills nor the knowledge to reintegrate these people into society. Society asked them to kill on its behalf, but does little to return the Warrior to a rightful place as a caring, compassionate member of a family and community.

Can the community do anything to help with this return to so-called normal society? The Warrior Veteran needs to be brought back into the Circle of Life. How can they find spiritual peace and understanding from the community? Only if the circle of their community is a healing circle.

Does the community ever rent a room, invite the Veterans, feed and honor them and listen to their stories of the atrocities of war or the horrors of being the deliverer of death to another by accident or for survival? When do they hear about arms blown off a man who walked down a road not knowing mines were there? Who will listen to the Warrior's scramble for words that describe an incoming napalm strike on a village? Who hears the break in their voices? No one, even though these voices resound in their own head every day.

These things happened. The blood and destruction has been seen by the Veteran. The community must acknowledge the sacrifice their Veteran was willing to give. Society and the community can not know and understand or postulate a reason for what has happened, for that same society and community allowed the war either by electing people into office or by sitting by and watching war upon war unfold without lifting a finger to stop it.

Who will sit and listen to the stories of these Veterans? Will the people of the community come forward and listen or will the Veteran be doomed to the darkness of a house where no one visits? Will the people lean down to say hello to the Veteran whose legs are missing because they were blown off in a battle, or will they cross the street in avoidance?

Many Veterans that seem like they are of sound body suffer with the intrusive thoughts of having to experience death first hand and in many cases, by their own hand. They are also in darkness. A Veteran struggling with his thoughts as he tries to understand PTSD is forever and constantly bombarded by shame, guilt, depression, anger, confusion and lonliness.

This Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is grossly misunderstood by most people. Some even say things like, “Get a life” or “Get over it.” when they hear of a Veteran that gets disability for the loss of control of his own life from the struggles with PTSD.

The Warrior is a hunter with death and blood on their hands and real horror to relive in their dreams. They are the ignored and too often the wounded walking suicide-to-be. They are the men and women with visions that they cannot, but want to, leave behind. They constantly try to be sorry for their actions but fail because the destruction of their own heart will not allow it. The blackness is there, forever.

The Warrior accepts the inevitable truth that they will live and die lonely as they struggle to be understood.

Think of these things the next time you see a Veteran. And remember, those who the Warrior fought because they were told they were the enemy are Warriors too. They and their families will suffer the same as “our side”. They also have PTSD. The Mothers and Fathers of those also cry at the loss of a loved one. Brothers and Sisters, Grandmothers and Grandfathers will miss them. We are all on the same side as far as issues with our Warriors.

The Native American communities have been stepping forward for many many years. They welcome back their Warriors. They have ceremonies and honoring Pow Wow’s for the Veterans. They are not glad there is war. But they realize this. The Veteran, drafted or enlisted, whether a regular Army soldier or a National Guard member who was deployed into war, was following orders because they took an oath. They were all willing to sacrifice their own life if need be. They accepted the pain and suffering that happens to them as a Warrior from witnessing the death and destruction firsthand. This is what is honored in the Veteran. Honor the Warrior, not the war.

After Vietnam, society had much confusion about the war. Let us not make the same errors in the way we treat our Veterans that are returning from the Persian Gulf. Let us make ammends to ALL Veterans from ALL eras, combat and non-combat. Let us never forget that suffering and loss affect everyone in the world. Let no one tell you who your enemies are.

Honor the dead. Heal the wounded. Work for peace and end all war.


susan said...

My primary response is to wish you were read by a much broader group of people since this is a post everyone should be given the opportunity to consider.

I was born in England in the aftermath of WWII and although the rubble had been cleared by the time I was old enough to be looking at the world I do remember the blank spots like missing teeth among the row houses. Decades went by before the cities were rebuilt and people lived with rationing for years.

I only mention this because I believe it's a large part of the answer to the problem among the populace at large when dealing with Veterans. Having never experienced war in person but only by way of some kind of media trickery they feel distanced from the dirty processes war entails. The people in Europe mostly haven't forgotten. My favorite war stories (both made into excellent films) are A Midnight Clear and Catch 22 (one of the best novels of the 20th century).

I grew up being told the First and Second World War were ‘good’ wars since we were attacked. My Dad was 30 when he joined the navy resulting in he and my mother being mostly separated over the ensuing 7 years. He worked in the engine rooms of the ships he was assigned to and knew from seeing what happened to others in the fleet there’d be no chance for anyone that far below if they were bombed or torpedoed. Strafing runs by the German Air Force were common and he too saw comrades die suddenly and messily. Although my mother frowned on him telling me gory details she had her own stories about life in London during the Blitz. She worked in a munitions factory near one of the big shipyards and saw her share of action.

As I grew up I took a lot of time studying the backgrounds of both wars and learned, as you probably have too, that things were a lot more complicated than we were taught in our high school history classes. I’ve learned for myself there are no good wars and no righteous wars but there are brave and honorable warriors. My father was born 100 years ago come November and the Memorial Day I still honor was once called Armistice Day – November 11, 1918 at 11:00 am when the guns that nearly destroyed Europe fell silent. I remember going to the Cenotaph with my Dad every 11.11 that I was at home in Canada where wreaths were laid and respect was shown to the old soldiers and sailors who had survived two wars.

My son was fathered by a deserter from the US military (drafted when he was late in signing up for his second semester at college) who became very involved in the international peace movement and went on to earn a master's degree at the University of Toronto and a career in Canadian politics. I eventually met my husband and came here in 1977 and remember well the disdain shown to Vietnam Vets. On a Memorial Day a few years later they were invited to march in the locally famous Bristol parade. There were all the accroutrements of a major parade including decorated elderly Veterans, Mummers, Shriners, marching bands and fancy floats. All of a sudden a deep hush settled over the excited crowd as the Vietnam Veterans came around a bend in the road. They were dressed in jungle camouflage and wore their headbands and kit.. just like they had just stepped out of Apocalypse Now. In their midst they carried empty tiger cages as they passed in silence. Everyone cried and through our tears one after another began to applaud. That's the kind of memory that still makes me cry today.

My deepest wish is that all the guns fall silent forever.

Mel said...

(((((( Spadoman ))))))

Thank you....

Mel said...

(((((( susan )))))))

And thank you.

Fran said...

Great post..... I second the sentiment.

I'll never pretend to understand war.

The Crow said...

I served in the US Navy, Vietnam Era, in the Hospital Corps. Saw enough mangled, maimed and lost-forever warriors to ever want another conflict, anywhere. My brother served in the Navy's Riverine Assault units in the Mekong delta. He came home to us, badly wounded, lost forever due to PTSD, Agent Orange effects - we know where he lives, but cannot find him. He hides from the world.

The war is not over for him...or for us, to a lesser, still painful degree.

I think my Hospital Corps experiences, and the loss, emotionally and spiritually, of my brother influenced my decision to become a Quaker.

Very moving, memory-provoking post. Thank you.