Thursday, November 11, 2004

Veteran's Day

I spent my formative years living on a farm in rural Indiana. It is a conservative community, but i didn't think of it that way then. I remember being a bit alarmed during high school when one of the nearby towns decided to remove The Grapes of Wrath from the local library, arguing that it was obscene. But everyone in the area was so like-minded that there was seldom any debate about politics, or even wrong and right.

One of the beliefs we all shared was that veterans were to be admired and respected. Like most boys i romanticized war; and, perhaps not like other boys, i watched a lot of movies from the 40s and 50s that romanticized it even more. I never got over the sense that WWII was a unique time in history and that those who survived it were somehow special. I still feel that it was a righteous and necessary war and that those who died made a worthwhile sacrifice.

In that community there was never much discussion about the relative virtues of Korea or Viet Nam. If you served, you were doing your duty and sacrificing for your country and that's all that mattered. I know that the same still applies to the first Gulf War, Kosovo, Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq. And, liberal though i might be, i think that's the way it should be. For every Pat Tillman, there are thousands of high-school kids to whom the military is the best available career option. They volunteer knowing, if not entirely understanding, what the consequences might be. Their intentions are good and their sacrifice is every bit as meaningful as the soldiers from the world wars.

But these days i can't think of these things abstractly. When i think of war, i have to think in terms of my own sons fighting and maybe dying. I have to think in terms of what possible benefit there could be to mankind from their sacrifice. Whenever i hear about a new casualty from Camp Pendleton i immediately think about his or her parents and how they justify it to themselves. I can't imagine it. I feel that i would need more than the liberation of the Iraqi people. I would need more than guesses about what Saddam might have done if left undisturbed. I think talk about Sunni and Shiite and who the insurgents really are would infuriate me. Simply put, i would need to know precisely, unambiguously, who in the hell the enemy are and what the result would be if we defeated them.

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