They Know Not What They Do

I just finished watching some videos on the “Welcome Home Blog,” which posts videos of family – and sometimes pet – reunions with returning veterans. I challenge anyone to watch these videos without tears in their eyes. They stand as a profound witness to the sacrifice of our American veterans and their families – and, by extension, the sacrifice of everyone from every country who has ever served in their nation’s military – especially those who have been separated from their families during periods of war. They also stand as a testimony to the truth that it’s not only veterans who suffer, but their families, including their children, as well. I confess I don’t know the anxiety that a family member must experience while their loved one is away in the military. In fact, I can’t even begin to imagine it – but in many ways it is written in the profound relief on the faces of the people in this video.

I recently finished the book At Hell’s Gate: A Soldier’s Journey from War to Peace by Vietnam veteran and now Buddhist monk Claude Anshin Thomas. He chronicles the impact of war in his own life, which followed an intensely abusive home life as he grew up, and his struggle to reintegrate in an America that was ambivalent at best about returning veterans. Interestingly, and perhaps a bit counter-intuitively, he recognized the pain present in his father and other World War II veterans – a pain many assume wasn’t part of their experience because they came home victors and were celebrated with ticker-tape parades – as being rooted in the same experience that he had during combat in Vietnam.

Even as I shed tears watching these videos, I recognized that the journey for these men and women and their families is far from over. In a political climate in which responsibility for actions seems a thing of the past and Congress seems unwilling to provide the kind of care these veterans and their families will need, I am not optimistic. Veterans benefits should not be negotiable in budget discussions. Even those who return alive have sacrificed their lives and the lives of their families for their country and that means their country owes them anything and everything that will help them recover from the trauma inflicted upon them by George W. Bush’s fiscally disastrous temper tantrum and Barack Obama’s cowardice and failure to fulfill his campaign promises.

When will we recognize that war accomplishes nothing? Moreover, when will we officially recognize that the impact of war transcends the battlefield not only in scope but also in duration? Will we address the reality of the injustice and classism that exists in the current structure of our all volunteer force in which the economically disadvantaged are forced to risk their lives out of financial necessity and the rich can afford to avoid the hell that is war altogether?

More importantly, will we see that war is an unnecessary evil and answer all of my questions by simply abandoning it?

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