Sunday, August 21, 2011

Strangling Thanks

The weekend media have a thought-provoking juxtaposition of articles on the separation of war and the military from the larger population. Foreign Policy presents "Strangle Yourself with a Yellow Ribbon" written by a four-time deployed Marine sergeant. A companion article on the comments to the original included a statement that, when stripped of specifics, fully summarized my own experience and feelings about military service:
I was never convinced by the justification for the Iraq invasion, so I never understood my deployment to be upholding and defending the Constitution or to be protecting the American people. So the only thing for which I can feel legitimately thanked is for abstractly being willing to die had there been a cause worth dying for.

More important than the kindred sentiments, however, is the author's accurate account of the very real and harmful effects of endless war borne by a few. For most Americans the wars are background. For soldiers and their families the wars are life and death. Civilians will never fully understand the consequences of war.

As if to prove the point, the Washington Post reports on the distance between wounded veterans and fans at a major league baseball game. This story features a civilian who actually looked at a legless veteran with his son and tried to imagine how the father's injury would affect the son who was about the same age as her her child. All she could muster was thank you for your service" but at least it came from a considered thought and not an autonomic response to something we'd rather ignore. Civilians do not want to think about the cost of war and are highly uncomfortable when exposed to its human wreckage.

The Post article offers some possibility for bridging the separation. At Georgetown University,
In February, the McDonough Military Association held its second annual “Free Beer and War Stories” night. The event was designed to give students who knew little of the military or the wars a sense of what life was like for deployed service members. It provoked a genuine exchange — more than 10 seconds, more than 60 seconds, more than 63 seconds — between the former service members and the student body.

Even better would be fewer wars but until then, all of us in whose name war is waged, should honestly recognize its full costs on the men and women who wage our wars.

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