A trumpet plays Tapps as a casket is lowered into the ground flanked by uniformed men in form, a military cemetery is marked with small flags on every grave, a long bearded homeless man begs in the streets. For many of us, this is what we think of when we remember Veterans Day.
As an aspiring pacifist, I feel conflicted on Veteran’s Day. I want to honor the individuals who serve with courage, powering through their fears and anxieties to risk their lives for my freedom. I want to throw my arms around them, encourage their healing from the traumas of war, and I feel deeply grateful for the many choices I have because they have served. I know I have the privilege of speaking to this because of the freedoms these individuals have provided for me. So, I do not say this lightly.
I hate war.
I feel an intense instinct to resist the glorification of war and the ways in which it inflicts and perpetuates the brokenness of nearly every aspect of our life together. When we look at systems of power, resorting to violence creates an environment where another use of violence is a central mover in the system. In war, one person’s safety is another one’s demise and the demise of her family, society, and entire well-being. The consequences of war: social structure demolition, innocent deaths, the eradication of environment resources, the implosion of webs of interconnectivity, and fear and trauma begetting (more) fear and estrangement and eventually … another war.
Why is it that we put so much time, energy, and cash into our biggest failure as humankind?
I am only speaking for me. I’m not speaking for the denomination I work for which has a very “sane” just war stance. But I am speaking as one of those crazy ones focused on reconciliation in cultures of violence. We simply must look at systems of violence with a critical eye.
Peace & justice work is intentional, demanding, and sometimes downright exhausting. When it is done well, it can weave light into the fabric of injustice – but often it means untying string to re-weave into to something different and better. We must encourage individuals, structures, and institutions to think both larger & smaller.
We think larger to dissect the systems that break us so deeply we must work for generations to heal. We think larger because of the connectivity of our world, the impact of globalization, and our human tendency to elevate our needs above others’. And, we think smaller because every individual matters. We think smaller because our impact on the world is breath by breath, choice by choice, action by action.
This is not sentimentality. Any more than is our honoring of our Veterans, fallen or living. There is no sentimentality in war. The thing that centers me is that together, all of us, warriors and reconcilers, want a world where our jobs are unnecessary.