[This Saturday] will mark what was originally called “Armistice Day”, named for the end of a brutal and senseless slaughter once referred to as the Great War.
Names have changed and generations have passed. I discovered recently there are fewer than 100 surviving veterans of World War I, out of millions who served. The youngest is over 100 years old. As the massacre they endured fades from living memory – rat-infested trenches, body-strewn barbed wire, scorched earth and scorched lungs, amputations and executions – we who can only imagine the horror are confronted with the duty of preventing such nightmares in the future.
I can’t remember how old I was when I started reading newspapers. The confluence of story and reality led to an enduring, if amateur, interest in history. And so I’ve spent much of my young life reading, often about suffering – wars, famines, earthquakes, genocides – events which put my personal experiences with suffering into profound context.
I am one of the vast majority of Americans who will never go to war. I cannot speak personally about the hells of live combat nor terrorized occupation. I’m grateful I’ll never know.
But I try to set aside time every Veterans Day and Memorial Day to reflect on the sacrifices others have made, and what I might do to prevent unnecessary sacrifice in the future.
I believe in the hope of pacifism, but not yet in its reality. War remains an ugly option for an imperfect world.
But I believe war is too often judged by its result, not its justification. Perhaps this is why many Americans remember the Alamo, and might prefer to forget the fall of Saigon. Perhaps this is why we are embarrassed by the Bay of Pigs, but not by the CIA coups which successfully toppled democratically elected leaders in Iran, Guatemala, and Chile.
I believe we send our young people off to war without sufficient thought to the burdens some will face when they return home. I believe homeless veterans, lost in their own country, deserve something more like the attention given those who remain missing abroad.
I believe the US Constitution wisely delegates to Congress the exclusive authority to declare war, a duty Congress has shirked repeatedly since it last did so in 1941. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was only the most recent example; yet I fear there will be more.
I believe so much of how we treat war is wrong. And I believe that if we treated war like the beast it is, there would be less of it.
I believe it my duty to learn the lessons of history and speak out when they are being ignored. Mark Twain put it best: “The past does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.” I believe that an active, educated citizenry is the best means to interrupt the damnable doggerel of war from consuming future generations.
This I believe.
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