A Reflection on a Legal Holiday from Many Years Ago
In my first year of seminary, at our annual off-site
retreat, an event occurred, that still sticks with many of us. In many ways, it
was deeply personal to me, because I had retired from a 22-year career in the
Navy just a few years prior, and this day was Veteran’s Day. For me, the
gesture was very powerful and meaningful; the colleague put a flower in a vase
on each table at lunch, in honor of the veterans who had served the US in years
past. The poppy was a symbol of honoring veterans for many years, but they were
not available, so roses were used in their place.
I was deeply touched by this gesture, as I understood the
historical significance of the flower, and what it represented. Most of those present
did not understand or appreciate it, because it appeared to endorse the extant
wars at the time, the “Global War on Terror.”
There are a number of things that those who haven’t served
in the military didn’t recognize. First off, until the end of the Viet Nam era,
soldiers were conscripted, they didn’t volunteer to serve. This meant that if
your number was called, you went, or you had bigger troubles!
With Desert Storm, even though no US assets had been
attacked there was a huge surge of patriotism stirred up, and the war was
highly supported. It had broad global support as well – after all, how could we
sit by and watch one country gobble up another one? Ironically, we are doing just that these days
with the Russia/Ukraine war, since intervening against Russia bears risks and
results beyond catastrophic.
After 9/11, of course the surge in patriotism was
unbelievably high, and the numbers of people enlisting was unprecedented. Yet
even so, the military still needed to call up Guard and Reserve forces like
never before to have adequate numbers to staff the battle forces that were
called for by President GW Bush. Were
these wars necessary? That’s a topic for another discussion, though.
Since Viet Nam, however, a new phenomenon occurred in the
US. Instead of blaming the President, Congress, or the National Command
Authority, where blame lies for going to war, American citizens blamed, and
attacked, returning soldiers. This attitude continues today. It is considered
the military’s fault that we are at war, and if the military would just stop
being so militaristic, well, then we could have peace, after all.
The rub is that the Constitution mandates a defense force.
We must have a military. The issue is how it is used. And almost every
president who has been to war himself understands the significance of that, and
has been hesitant to commit to war, and has limited the military actions. On
the contrary, presidents who never served in combat, including Clinton, GW
Bush, Obama and Trump have kept the military engaged in the Middle East
continually for over 30 years.
So, when we want to cast blame, it needs to go inside the
Washington Beltway for sure, but it needs to go to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, NOT
to the Pentagon. The Pentagon does not
make the decision to go to war, and it does not declare war on other countries.
That is the President and Congress.
And the military troops and veterans at the bottom of the
chain of command? They were following
the LEGAL orders they swore an oath to follow. To not follow those orders
carries other problems. The military does have procedures such as the
conscientious objector, and I have a friend who filed for that status after
returning from the Afghanistan war. So PLEASE, do not blame the military
personnel and veterans – give them flowers. We really are trying to make peace
in the world.
It's the politicians in the White House and Congress who try
to make war. Please remember that every election year.