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: