Random Firings of Neurons

The rest of your life is going to be spent getting back up after life has knocked you down again. You might as well just get used to it.

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Location: Round Rock, Texas, United States

Friday, November 11, 2005

On my other favorite holiday

Today is Veteran's Day.

You've heard all the stuff about when it started, and why, and why you should care. So, I'm not going to take up your time by just doing an information overload on it.

What I am going to do, though, is allow an unintended guest blogger to have their say about today.

My mother and I don't see eye to eye on a lot of things. Actually, we NEVER see eye to eye, since I'm four inches taller than her, but, that's beside the point. Politically, we couldn't be more opposite of each other if we tried. Well, we could. We're both about the polar opposite of my father, who is aggressively apathetic and cynical. But, if you want to know where I get what little writing ability I have, and my opinionated nature, I'll let you read what my mother sent me, for Veteran's Day.

War is dirty and war is hell. I’ve never been to war, but I don’t know anyone who would disagree with this. However, just about everything else about war is a topic of major contention. Some wars are justified, some are not, though some believe all war is unjustified. Some wars are well planned and executed and others are not. I have opinions on those topics, but I’m not going to share them here.

What I am going to talk about is soldiers (and sailors and airmen and marines). I was born while my father served in Korea, I saw my young husband off to Vietnam, and I saw my young son—who was born during the Vietnam war—off to the first Gulf War. I was a military wife overseas for nearly four years. I have three grandsons and I hope never to see them off to war. None of this makes me qualified to speak for any soldier. But I wish to speak of them and my beliefs about them.

The Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war. Sometimes presidents declare wars anyway and there is a lot of debate about whether that is legal. I don’t even have an opinion on that topic because it’s too confusing. However, what I do know, without a shadow of doubt, is that soldiers do not declare war. They just fight them. They kill in them, they die in them, they suffer and inflict horrible injuries in them. Some soldiers perform extraordinarily heroic deeds, others perform very cowardly deeds (though it is not for me to declare anyone a coward in a situation in which I am not sure I would perform honorably). The vast majority of soldiers serve honorably in situations in which maintaining honor can be quite difficult.

Sometimes it seems that in the military it really is true that Situation Normal [means] All “Fouled” Up. Soldiers may be sent to battle with not enough equipment, the wrong equipment, or equipment that doesn’t work. Somehow they manage to do the job anyway. They are sent into situations that seem insane (does it seem sane to you to get sent out to be shot at?). But they are ordered to go, they are trained to do the job, and they do it.

Soldiers are in an extraordinary position. They are sent to fight for our Constitution and freedom and way of life, but the military is neither a democracy nor a republic. It couldn’t work if it were. So soldiers don’t get to pick their wars. They don’t get to decide if the war they are sent to is justified or not. They don’t get to quit their jobs. They do as they are ordered by the government we elected. They are required to obey every “lawful” order, but whatever decision they make about whether any order is lawful (sometimes while getting shot at) is second-guessed after the fact.

We read about soldiers who have acted dishonorably and who have committed atrocities. That shouldn’t surprise us. Soldiers are human. We send them into situations so inhuman we can’t even begin to comprehend it unless we have been there. Soldiers who commit atrocities must be held accountable—as must their leaders—but I believe it is a triumph of human spirit that, in the midst of war, the majority of soldiers refuse to turn into monsters and even manage in a war zone to coach sports teams for kids and “adopt” schools and orphanages.

Soldiers can be extraordinarily tough and extraordinarily tender. They can cuss like, well, soldiers, they can and do fight like tigers, and they can cry like babies when they see what war has done to themselves and others.

Soldiers do their duty no matter what the cost. They will die for their fellow soldiers. They will die for their country, whether their country appreciates it or not.

This may be an essay better suited to Veteran’s Day than Memorial Day. But for any living veteran or active duty soldier, it may be only luck that his or her day is not this day.

Not what I would have said, nor the way I would have said it. But, that doesn't mean it wasn't said correctly.

Thanks, Mom. Sometimes, it is still nice to actually see that others understand what we did.

Semper Fidelis: Always Faithful, to God, Corps and Country