By John Raby
Veterans Day is upon us. How do we best honor our veterans? Once upon a time, November 11 was called Armistice Day, and meant to mark the end of a Great War that was hoped to end all wars, and to pay our respects to those who put their lives and fortunes on the line with that purpose in mind. After a second Great War, the nations of the world gathered to make real the words of the prophet, that we should beat swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, and study war no more. Once again, we honored those who served with that purpose in mind. At that point, in 1945, the day was still called Armistice Day. A bit later on, though, it became Veterans Day, a name that suggests the sad prospect of a war, or two, or several, for every rising generation, an endless line of veterans, home from war, who need healing and making whole, and the slipping away of hope for an enduringly just and peaceful world. Was that hope just a fool’s dream? Let us hope not, and act on that proposition.
Nor should we forget the veterans’ families, who also need healing and making whole, and in the worst case, consolation as well. They too deserve our respect, honor, and best efforts on their behalf. Nowadays, we do a magnificent job of training our armed forces and equipping them with an ever deadlier and more astonishing array of armament, but one cannot help wonder if we do equally well by them as they return from battle. Rates of unemployment, homelessness, suicide, and substance abuse are higher among them than among the general population. Rather than receive the full measure of restoration they deserve as a matter of basic decency and public obligation, they all too often must depend on private charity to do the good work.
Thanks in large part to our veterans, we have not had another Great War for several generations. It’s a good thing, too, since we now have weapons that can tear the skin off the earth, along with its peoples. Guided missiles remain on hair trigger alert. The arms trade thrives, with our country as the chief merchant, followed significantly by Russia, with other nations far behind. No Great War, thank goodness, but vicious little wars and near wars that have killed their millions over the past generation: Myanmar, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Turkey, Georgia, the Ukraine, Yemen, Chechnya, Kosovo, Bosnia, Libya, Gaza, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, Eritrea, Sudan, the South Sudan, Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Mali, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Colombia, Peru, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico come readily to mind. They blister the planet; children go to battle, carrying assault weapons. In the wake of invasion, insurgents plant IEDs instead of crops to feed the hungry.
There are alternatives, brighter spots and brighter events. Sweden and Switzerland have been at peace for two hundred years. Thanks to George Mitchell, Northern Ireland no longer bleeds as it once did. In the Philippines, the Nonviolence Peace Force has brought a decades long civil war to an end. In Colombia, the accompany movement of the Fellowship of Reconciliation has sharply reduced the danger to ordinary people in the countryside. In East Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Bulgaria, patient, heroic, nonviolent resistance brought about a new birth of freedom. In South Africa, instead of taking vengeance for decades of apartheid, Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela chose truth and reconciliation. At his advanced age, Bishop Tutu continues to work for peace in the Middle East, and Pope Francis has put himself on the line for nuclear disarmament. In Central America, Costa Rica thrives without a military establishment. And in Israel, there are ongoing student exchanges between Jews and Palestinians, aimed at understanding and reconciliation. All these examples are worth study and further application.
So, thank you and bless you, veterans. Thank you and bless you, families. Thank you and bless you, diplomats and peacemakers. And for us all and our descendants, give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, even as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, amen.