Today is Veterans Day here in the United States, a day that is also known as Armistice Day around the world. Today we normally remember and give thanks to those men and women who have served in the Armed Forces of United States. There is a very real cost in blood spilled and lives lost to preserve the life-style, culture and political system of America, and that cost has always been borne by the young (mostly) men and women.
I have not been in the ranks of those who wore a uniform for this country and at my age and given my stance on warfare I never will. I do think of those who have, especially those who have seen the horror of war. Whenever this country calls they always come. They march off to far away lands: Europe, the Pacific, Africa, Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan. Too many come home in body bags or coffins. Many come home with fewer limbs then when they left. Even those who on the outside seem whole are all too often scarred on the inside, carrying memories of the horror of war, of friends and comrades in arms that died.
Until recently I have been an enthusiastic cheerleader for American wars. Sure I dressed it up in with noble sounding rhetoric like fighting the "War on Terror" or "spreading freedom and democracy" but during my lifetime the myriad wars that America has been involved in have all been ill-advised. I was born during the Vietnam War, an unmitigated disaster that left a country devastated and a population decimated, not to mention the impact on American veterans. We spent most of my youth in a Cold War standoff with the Soviets, threatening one another with worldwide destruction that often was much closer than we like to admit. We have "intervened" all over the world in places like Somalia where we accomplished very little and were horrified by the sight of Somalis dragging the bodies of American men through the streets. When I started college we went to the Middle East again to "protect" Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, two nations that have very little to commend them to our protection other than the oil under their feet. We didn't "finish the job" during that war but we got the chance to do so later on when W. finished the war his dad started. We are still in Afghanistan and everyone knows that we are leaving soon and that Afghanistan, a land that has embarrassed empires for a long time, will revert right back to where it was as soon as we leave. All those lives lost and for what? We "got bin Laden" but he was in Pakistan, not Afghanistan. 41 years of ill-advised military interventions around the world.
This might not be popular. Can't I just thank our veterans today? Sure I could. That is the easy and the acceptable response. But I don't feel it. I recognize the service and sacrifice of so many young men and women. I appreciate that they were trying to do the right thing and often got little thanks for it. They also were doing this on my behalf and for that I apologize. I grieve for those lost in meaningless wars and interventions. I grieve for those who have lost limbs and for those who lost buddies. I grieve for those who carry hidden scars. I grieve that so many have died and so many have killed in ill-conceived wars that were essentially meaningless. I don't mean to downplay or dishonor their service. Most wore the uniform with the best of intentions. Still, I apologize for those who served on my behalf. I am sorry they had their youth ripped away. I am sorry for the nightmares. I am sorry that we sent them on foolish errands around the world where they had no business being and where so many of them lost their lives. I am sorry that we have created a culture that glorifies violence and exalts military action. I am sorry that we are so concerned with preserving our economic and cultural way of life that we are willing to send young men and women to their deaths to maintain it. I am sorry for what we sent you to do.