Monday was Memorial Day and in addition to the various signs and placards and banners that I saw thanking me for my service, we happen to be in the middle of camp-meeting at church, and all of us veterans were asked to stand wherein we received a hearty dose of applause and a ‘thanks’ from the pulpit. Off to my right was seated a visiting pastor who looked over at me with such admiration that an honest-to-goodness real life hero was sitting in his very midst. It was all quite embarrassing.
Now I don’t claim to speak for all veterans, only for myself. Please stop. I served six well-intentioned years in the United States Navy where I made multiple trips to the Middle East. We were there to enforce various UN resolutions against the country of Iraq. I didn’t like the UN then, and I don’t like them now, but there I was, going hither and yon at their bidding because the officers appointed above me and the President of the United States thought that was a worthwhile use of my time.. Was it dangerous? Certainly. But nothing I did, in my estimation earns me any sort of annual applause in perpetuity. I’m not a war criminal, but certainly not a hero.
In our congregation we have a person who has 4 purple hearts and a Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry for actions performing in the late 60’s. Wounded on 4 separate occasions, he not only carries physical ailments from his time overseas, but is continually privy to mental anguish. What do I make of a day set aside for him? What do I think we owe him?
Regardless of what you think about that particular overseas venture ( I think the American people were lied to and we squandered the lives of perfectly good men for no good reason) this one thing I do know; that nobody really fights for freedom in a war. A man put in a combat situation isn’t fighting for freedom or liberty. Such concepts are abstract to the point of pointlessness when other armed human beings are shooting at you. He is fighting for him and his friend’s lives, and although this seems to put me a bit off the libertarian reservation, I think that fighting to preserve the lives of your friends after having been put in a horrible situation by your government is an act that carries with it a certain amount of gallantry. Trying to get everyone home alive in the midst of chaos and bloodshed is an act of bravery. Trying to maintain your humanity in the face of orders from disgusting authority has a bit of nobility to it.
But what I think is owed like my friend is an apology. Someone owes them an apology for how their blood and their humanity were sacrificed to line the pockets of well-connected profiteers. Memorial Day ought not be just a day of hero-worship, it ought not be a blank check of gratitude extended to anyone who wore a uniform, it ought to be a day of reflection, and repentance and apology. Every Memorial Day we ought to recommit that we won’t send good men off to die for no good reason. We ought to resolve that we won’t buy the lies of the state when they drum up yet another boogieman to frighten us into giving up our sons to the ravenous jaws of the war machine. We ought to purpose within our hearts that we won’t let ourselves be manipulated into blind obedience to the latest crop of flag-waving politicians who will happily send out children off to an early grave while mouthing empty slogans like ‘Freedom isn’t free’. No, its not free. In fact, the way things are set up now, their definition of ‘freedom ‘ is not only free, its ridiculously profitable.
So keep your applause, I didn’t earn it, and if you feel compelled to observe Memorial Day, observe it with prayer that we as a people wake up and stop the perpetual madness.