Honoring Soldiers in a World Desperate for Peace

It is Armistice Day, and it is Veterans Day. On this day, I am always conflicted as a pacifist. While I honor the courage and self-sacrifice of those who put themselves through the hell of battle to do what they believe is necessary to protect the vulnerable and make the world safer and more just, I rail against the pseudo-wisdom that violence could ever bring peace. I lament how the adulation of soldiers contributes to the continuation of wars that no longer end on a day that once celebrated the end of a war. I fear that the waving flag obscures the horrors of burning lands and bloodied bodies; I fear that the drum beats of patriotic rhythms drown out the screams of the dying and their loved ones. I am loath to participate in the lies that justify and glorify such destruction and death, for wars are lies born of greed and power-lust creating and exacerbating conflicts that can be resolved peacefully when humanity is acknowledged and not discarded. But I still wish to honor the soldiers on the frontlines of a world built on violence, for their bravery, for their risk, for the wounds to their bodies and souls on the battlefields and the continued suffering they carry for a lifetime ever after. The irony of the day commemorating both war and peace always fills me with contradictory emotions that I can never resolve.

But today, the paradox of this day is profoundly fitting. A poisonous election has given way to a hurt, angry, and divided nation, as it was bound to do no matter who won. Wars for power and profit rage on, drone strikes in seven countries continue, and the long-suffering earth takes more fatal wounds from bombs and pipelines and toxins cooking the atmosphere. Racism and sexism and homophobia and marginalization have found popular pseudo-validation, but the victory of Donald Trump also speaks to a hope to overthrow an Empire, fortified by the bipartisan ruling class, that has failed the poor and disappearing middle class. That hope will not be fulfilled in the upcoming administration, however, which exploited legitimate grievances while further scapegoating the most vulnerable. If hope comes from anywhere, it comes from the Love in which we all have our being, stirring people to rise and gather and organize for peace, for human dignity, for reconciliation with all nations and peoples, for a healthier, more sustainable planet.

Now more than ever, we need armistice: a laying down our hatred, our fears, our refusal to listen to one-another. And now, more than ever, we need soldiers in the great nonviolent struggle to raise compassion over cruelty, courage over fear, love over hate.

The threats we face are real, but they do not come from a shadowy, evil “out-there” other. Our own violence is killing us. This violence takes many forms – from the slaughter of war to the dehumanization of bigotry to corporate greed casting an ever-growing shadow of poverty over our nation. Every day, we must tell the truth about war, and on days like today we must not let legitimate admiration for soldiers overshadow that truth. The wars we fight – for resources, profit and domination – destroy lands and livelihoods and leave desperation and vengeance in their wake. The War on Terror is self-perpetuating and will never end until we repent of our violence and strive to heal the damages our wars have caused. Until we are honest enough to face up to our own violence, we will misunderstand the legitimate grievances against us that are acted out in illegitimate acts of terror that mirror – on a tiny scale – the terror that we wage. Our own denial and misunderstanding lead to dehumanization and Islamophobia. Reluctance to empathize and understand the struggles of others lead to xenophobia and racism. Demonization of others at home and abroad explodes in terror and hate crimes that lead us deep into a morass of fear and distrust, isolating us in darkness.

But the victims of violence are not limited to the overlooked victims of our wars or the marginalized minorities on our shores. They also include those whose lives have been destroyed by greed and a globalization where “freedom” refers to a free-flow of capital while people are locked in poverty. Many of these people voted for Donald Trump, feeling forgotten by the establishment.  There is pain, anger, and fear on all sides, and when our own pain, or the pain of those to whom we are closest, blinds us to the pain of others, we continue to lash out and further entrench ourselves in myopia that manifests in apathy or active hate.

On a day we remember those who defended our nation, it behooves us to take stock of the threats we now face, and realize that the dangers ahead are not people but Powers of fear, domination, bigotry, and indifference to suffering. The battles we must wage are within our own souls against our baser instincts, our temptations to blame and avoid self-critique. But we also face the challenge of reviving our dying planet, a planet dying of our wars and our greed, and we can only meet this challenge together.

So we desperately need our soldiers – their courage, their steadfastness, their ability to walk head-on into danger. We need to learn from them, because the challenges we now face call us all to duty. But that duty is not violence, it is peacemaking. It is not destroying our enemies; it is destroying our enmity. It is not taking the spoils of war for ourselves but working for the prosperity of all people in our world, recognizing that our own well-being is intertwined with that of everyone else. It is not scourging the earth with bombs but healing the earth with care.

To all the soldiers and veterans, thank you for your courage and dedication to the service and protection of our nation. We need you more than ever as we all rededicate our mission from violence to peace. A special thank you to Veterans for Peace, who have heard and heeded the clarion call to make war no more. God bless you; God bless us all with open eyes and hearts.

Image: “Veterans for Peace by Carolmooredc,” via Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

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