December 8, 2007
Thinking of soldiers.
Last month was the celebration of Veteran's Day, a day that
was born in the last century to recall the 11th day of the
11th month at the 11th hour in which the guns ceased to fire
in the War to End All Wars. Also known as WWI. Now we know
that it wasn't that. The painful price extracted from Germany
gave Adolf Hitler an opening to bring his mad politics to
bear on a beaten country. Since the end of WWII, we've had
other wars, one after another - conflagrations that haven't
engulfed the world but have certainly shaped generations.
I am a baby boomer. Viet Nam shaped us whether or not we
were asked to serve, had high lottery numbers, deferments
because of physical ailments or any other configuration of
dealing with the military demands of the draft at that time.
The Baby Boomer Generation was shaped, formed, molded, melted
by Viet Nam. It haunts us now and will to the day we die.
On Veteran's Day, a Holiday, I was, of course, not taking
a Holiday but was working. However, I was listening to all
the reports on NPR that related to Veteran's Day. 1 out of
4 homeless is a veteran. It shocked me but it's true. A disproportionate
number of homeless have served their country in the military.
The other thing I was listening to were the stories of men
and women returning from Iraq and attempting to deal with
the re-immersion into a world where their lives weren't threatened
every moment. Mothers had trouble reconnecting with their
children. Men could not find places in the work place; they
did not want to answer the questions their friends had about
their service. To, at least one, it felt as if he was being
asked to provide "pornography" to his questioners.
The day after Veteran's Day, with all these thoughts in my
mind, I was moving about New York in a rather normal way.
Descending into the Grand Central Subway Station there is
a place at the bottom of the escalator that is often inhabited
by beggars. Like most people, I walk by them, not ever knowing
what to do with them. That day the man was in a wheelchair,
legless, with a sign that said: veteran, homeless, needs help.
Maybe it was a lie, maybe it was true; either way I gave him
We have created such a complex set of situations with our
veterans. I know no one who does not support the men and women
in Iraq regardless of their support for the war itself. We
are not supporting them the way I would like us to. And while
there was a time when there was a great brouhaha about the
conditions at Walter Reed it has quieted down. Have the issues
been resolved? Or have we just lost interest?
My brother-in-law, with whom I am often on the other side
of the political fence, forwarded to me some touching photos
of American soldiers interfacing with Iraqi citizens - some
of those photos brought tears to my eyes and the truth of
them is that we have not given enough shrift to the good we're
doing - though we would not need be worried about that if
we had not created this horrific mess.
During Viet Nam we reviled the soldiers as well as the governmental
policies that directed their actions. In Iraq, we have matured
enough to separate the people from the government. [Well we
still have to deal with Abu Ghrab and that's not pretty.]
However, despite Abu Ghrab, it's my belief that most of the
men and women in uniform in Iraq are individuals of honor
who are caught in a dreadful situation.
I am in pain that they are there. I think back to the young
man on the train that I met some months ago. I thought he
was dealing with a ski accident; the reality was that he was
dealing with mortar wounds. I don't know where he is but I
pray for him whenever I turn to God about this idiotic war
which surrounds us. He was full of honor.