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Thank You For Serving Our Country. I Wish You Hadn't Needed To.
A Quaker pacifist reflects on Memorial Day
I never quite know what to do on Memorial Day. I hardly have any veterans in my family - I have two great-uncles who fought in Vietnam, and neither comes to extended family gatherings. (Coincidence? I wonder.)
The paucity of military in my family is probably due in part to the ages of my parents and their siblings, coming of age after Vietnam but before Desert Storm. There's also the fact that we are Quaker, a pacifist religion.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I have never had many friends who were military, either - with the notable exception of our art director,So I don't know much about military life, culture, or sacrifice.
Given all that, what am I supposed to do on this day? Barbecue? No thanks, I'm a vegetarian. Watch the Indy 500? You couldn't pay me. Sit somberly for awhile and think? We have a winner!
It is probably foolish to suggest that war is never necessary. It is probably cruel to suggest that overseas victims of tyrannical governments should not receive our intervention. And it is probably ignorant not to acknowledge that much of our security - the safety and stability that we take for granted in America - comes merely from the fact that we have as strong a military as we do, before they engage at all.
Still, variations on these opinions occasionally float around in the back of my mind.
I don't like war. I don't like the idea of it, and I certainly don't like how it often plays out. The collateral damage to innocent civilians, the severe mental health outcomes for soldiers, and the requisite budget that seems big enough to shelter the nation's unhoused many times over are abhorrent to me. For these reasons and others, I'm comfortable identifying generally as a pacifist.
As I look at what I am doing right now, I acknowledge that it would be impossible without the support and defense of, ultimately, the US military.
What do I mean? Well, I'm sitting outside, in my yard. The fact that my yard is a safe place speaks to the degree of law and order in the country. That is not the case everywhere.
I'm wearing a tank top and joggers. The fact that I'm allowed to wear something revealing, especially in the desert heat, speaks to the degree of sovereignty that women have in this country. That is not the case everywhere.
And what am I doing out here, in my yard, wearing a tank top? I'm working. I have the ability to do that, despite my gender and the societal roles that many people in power think come with it. That is not the case everywhere.
I see plenty of ways for America to continue to make good on its promise that it is the land of the free. For instance, I wish all citizens of all genders, all sexualities, all ethnicities, all religions, and all socioeconomic backgrounds really had even footing with each other. I wish we all treated each other kindly. I wish we were not so divided and beholden to political ideologies.
But as I reflect from my outsider's position, I can see that America certainly is the home of the brave.
I can't imagine the bravery and conviction that it takes to join a branch of the military. I can't imagine the discipline and cooperation that it takes not to be thrown out of the military! I can't imagine the terror of actually being in a war zone. Most of all, I cannot imagine riding my convictions into a battle and letting those convictions carry me right to the end of my life, there amid the shooting, explosions, and chaos.
And if I would not be willing to take a risk, then I certainly cannot condemn anyone else for having done so. Especially when it's a risk that must be taken. And all of our military and veterans are taking those risks for what they truly believe is the betterment of both our country and the world. Deep down, I think I know they're right: the ability to defend ourselves is a necessity for any nation that hopes to thrive.
After all, someone has to do it.
To those that did, I thank you.