Honoring People While Opposing War

On this Veterans’ Day, as I sift through postings from friends on Facebook and see all the discounts being offered to veterans that express gratitude to those who have served or are serving in the armed forces, I confess to feeling very conflicted. I am a conscientious objector to war, committed to nonviolent peacemaking and resolution of conflict. Veterans’ Day (and Memorial Day as well) celebrates those who have fought in wars I wish hadn’t been fought, wars that perhaps could have been avoided had more people been committed to nonviolence and finding other solutions to the serious conflicts that were at the root of those wars. So many wars and conflicts, in my view, are just dumb, as my daughter once said many years ago while we were watching a war movie on television.

At the same time, I don’t want to dishonor those who sacrificed so much to defend their country, including not only the veterans themselves but also their friends and family members. I recognize that even though I believe that “war is not the answer” (to use that bumper-sticker phrase), the wars that the United States has waged probably helped in some way to secure the freedoms we enjoy. I am grateful for those freedoms, especially since I know that many people in other countries around the world don’t enjoy the same freedoms. I also grieve at the high incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide among veterans, particularly of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and at the emotional toll deployment takes on family members left at home. I want veterans and family members to have the services they need to cope and to heal. And I am aware of how the armed forces often serve as a source of respectable employment and job training for young people who might otherwise be stuck in poverty with few opportunities.

But the fact remains: Veterans’ Day is difficult for me because it tends to glorify something I don’t believe in, namely war. How do I, as a believer in nonviolence, show honor and respect to those who have done what they thought was right to defend my country even when I don’t agree with many of their methods? Or as one Facebook friend asked me today, how do we practice peace on days that honor values we don’t hold?

In Canada, November 11 is called Remembrance Day. In keeping with that label, Mennonite Central Committee has a button with the statement, “to remember is to work for peace.” I like that.

Previous posts that have also explored my commitment to peacemaking and nonviolence:

Why I Hate Watching the News – Or Pursuing Peace

“My Pieces of Peace”

“War is Dumb”

“Gambling on the Rapture”

“Guns and the Violence Within”



6 thoughts on “Honoring People While Opposing War

  1. Harriet-I too feel this tension. Sometimes, when I hear the chant USA I just cringe because that kind of mindless pseudo-patriotism seems to me what drives some wars. The “we’re better than them” attitude that makes national policy makers think we can and should jump into every conflict.
    That said, I do think some wars can make sense and some just can’t.
    World War II–with the rise of Hitler and all the atrocities we now know of–had to be fought. But Vietnam, my generation’s war, was totally useless.

  2. Our economic muscle combined with our tendency to intervene anywhere makes for empire-like tendencies that are profoundly troubling. I am not a libertarian; but the libertarian argument that we should reduce the military to what is needed for self-defence makes sense to me. I can tell you for certain that Manitoba is not planning to invade either Minnesota or North Dakota–except in the sense that we will drive to Grand Forks to go shopping. I want to honour those who have followed their conscience into the trenches. I do not want to honour our lust for more violence and bloodshed, whether in video games or in real life.

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  5. The honesty and humility with these issues very important. There’s lots of tension between having passion for our convictions and humanizing those who disagree with us. Hopefully, we do this well without dishonoring anyone and without softening our perspective. Unfortunately, just having our perspective often leads to people being offended.

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