I feel a special flavor of ambivalence reserved for twice a year; Memorial Day and Veteran's Day. On the one hand, when I think of my Grandfather serving in World War II and Korea, called to service to truly make a sacrifice with no expectation of reward or recompense except in the opportunity to protect a way of life and liberty not just for himself and his family, but for me and mine; I feel absolutely nothing but reverence for that.
Further back in history the picture gets hazier for me. My Great-Grandfather served in WWI as an ambulance driver, and my Great-Great-Great-Grandfather served in the Alabama 25th Infantry during the War Between the States (it feels more natural to call it that than the "Civil War" when I'm referencing his service). I'm not connected to their motivation or expectations, but I'm happy to believe that they actually made sacrifices without expectation of return and that their motivations were truly admirable. That's true even if, for the case of my GGG-Grandfather, he fought on what I now believe to have been the wrong side. I'm still comfortable with the notion that his actions were a product of his time and slow to judge based on my modern sensibilities. (Lord knows I hope the same from my ancestors 150 years from now).
None of my family members fought in Vietnam, but I still feel for the survivors of that war, and I know that they suffered many injuries, even if they were lucky enough not to suffer physical harm.
But, here's the thing... I'm extremely sceptical of the notion that I should somehow be thankful for those who did serve there. I believe this to be a controversial statement, and I'm certainly open to instruction on the matter, but in this case I'm definitely questioning the group-think that sacrifices made in Vietnam were made "for me" and that I must do my part to thank or otherwise celebrate the individuals who made those sacrifices.
I mostly wish we'd had better statesmen at the time and across history and that we would stop making decisions as a nation that alienate and subjugate entire people-groups with long-term consequences leading again and again inexorably to war.
Of course, this is an oversimplification, but I think less so than the ideology that says "they" (beware the great all-encompassing "them") just hate us for our freedom and "they" want to destroy freedom and prosperity for themselves as well as us and everyone we've ever fought has had it coming somehow. In that light, thank God for our righteous warriors.
No, that doesn't hold up. Our righteous warriors are just a little too debauched; and if they aren't so before war, war will certainly bend them to it.
War is a failure, a catastrophe, a loss. It's not to be celebrated, or anticipated. I'll not go so far as to say that it must (or can) always be avoided at every cost; I believe you may sometimes be called upon to stand for what is right in the world against what is wrong when the proponents of the wrong have given you absolutely no choice.
As for the draftee servicemen (victims, I'd almost like to say) I'm more sorry that that happened to you than I am grateful for your service. What's more, I think the character of a person who answers the call of his or her country is to be celebrated.
That said, if you knowingly balance your options and make the decision, with eyes wide open to what tasks you may be required to perform; and you do this with full knowledge and expectation that you will be rewarded with certain federally guaranteed perks upon completion and during the execution of your service, then I wonder if it could be said that when you're called to war that you've actually made any sacrifice at all. I suppose we need soldiers, but I know we need teachers too, why should we beatify the one career choice, and largely deride (at least it seems of late) the other.
It just leaves a bad taste in my mouth to see in the commercial montages over this last Memorial day with clips from a 1940s raging battle on one God-forsaken Pacific island or another along side clips of fully equipped soldiers in modern desert cammo heading to a waiting Chinook helicopter.
You say you were shot at too? You say you were injured? You were compelled to go to a place you didn't want and leave your family behind to an uncertain future? You were permanently injured and suffered physical and emotional damage you will never be able to escape? Yep. That sucks. Why did you do that to yourself? You didn't do it for my benefit, I'll tell you that. I wish you'd been able to stay home too, I'm sorry you didn't.
At the graduation ceremony last week the brand new R.O.T.C. program at UVa-Wise commissioned it's very first officer (as a 2nd Lt in the army). It was made in to a very big deal. The graduation of one individual graduate dominated the stage for ten minutes and arrested the progression of the ceremony entirely.
I believe that individual had been required to prove his character and mettle but all I could think was, please don't get him killed and why should such a promising you man be put in a situation where he will likely be required to kill for questionable reasons a person whom he's never met, and be shot at or blown apart by people who've never met him. Are there no better uses for our best and brightest than to be compelled to act as some other man demands it.
By some old ancient inn,
We should have set us down to wet
Right many a nipperkin!
But ranged as infantry,
And staring face to face,
I shot at him as he at me,
And killed him in his place.
I shot him dead because—
Because he was my foe,
Just so: my foe of course he was;
That's clear enough; although
He thought he'd 'list, perhaps,
Off-hand like—just as I—
Was out of work—had sold his traps—
No other reason why.
Yes; quaint and curious war is!
You shoot a fellow down
You'd treat, if met where any bar is,
Or help to half a crown.