Thursday, May 3, 2007

Honor in Service to One’s Country

This morning’s news brings a welcome breath of fresh air from the Bush Administration. Condasleeza is going to meet with her counterpart from Syria, and it’s to be a real meeting, not the chance encounter she hinted at before leaving for the Iraqi called summit. Maybe BushCo or at least Mr. Bush himself has at long last learned that even America is not powerful enough to use gunboat diplomacy all the time. The world is sick and tired of the cocky, “clear the way” attitude of the American government, so this should come as a great relief. Time will tell, and it won’t take long, how seriously Dr. Rice will approach the meeting, but at least she will be exposed to the humanity of her “enemies” instead of just hurling bombs at them from 20,000 feet as America is far too willing to do.

With that thought in mind, I’d like to share with you some thoughts I’ve had about national military service. I hope some of my readers are of the age to be considering whether or not to offer their services to their country’s military and that this essay will offer some meaningful counsel for that decision.

War has its allure. One’s nation sounds the call for help and its youth answer with the pledge that they will die before allowing their nation to lose its honor, its integrity, its territory or even its right to exist. That response says to all who see it that this young person is no longer a child, but a warrior and a patriot. But I ask you to carefully consider that patriotism is honored in every country.

It was honored in Britain when the Nazis were showering it with bombs every night. It was honored when American youth answered the call in response to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.

It was also honored in Germany and Japan. It doesn’t matter whether the cause is truly honorable. What matters is whether or not one answers the call. When one answers the call, one is loudly proclaimed to be a patriot no matter what the cause.

When the cause is a Pearl Harbor, there is no doubt that the correct patriotic response is to accept the call and enlist. But if in a democracy the call is to climb into the planes and go bomb Pearl Harbor, the correct patriotic response is to refuse to touch that plane.

Under totalitarian regimes, such as Japan and Germany were before World War II, the only way one is allowed to show patriotism is to answer the call. In a democracy it is more patriotic to refuse a call to unjust war than to answer it.

I answered the call to the war in Vietnam. Ultimately, I did not have to go to Nam, but I donned the uniform in the belief that I was supporting my country in a just effort to save the world from communism.

I was wrong.

My patriotism was used against me to enable my country to carry on a war that had nothing to do with my nation’s future viability and everything to do with saving face for its president. My true patriotism would have been much better expressed had I refused to serve and spent my time protesting that political war. I had some great experiences in the army. I served with some of the finest people I have ever met. But . . .

I regret that I threw my patriotism blindly behind an unjust cause and contributed in my small way to the deaths of 58,000 Americans and so many more innocent Vietnamese people. Wearing a military uniform is not the only way to serve one’s country.

War is the worst, most horrible possible answer to a political problem. It is hugely wasteful of both lives and resources, and in the case of Iraq hugely wasteful of the goodwill America had in its political bag of tricks before the war.

I beg you.

Before you decide to show your patriotism by going to war, ask whether your country would benefit more by your protest than by the sacrifice of your life in the cause you are being asked to further. Carefully examine the motives of your leaders. Question the truth of their words. Then decide.

If you decide to serve without doing that review, you are offering your life for a cause you do not understand.

If you do examine the issues carefully and then decide to serve in support of the war, you deserve honor as one who believes his country needs him. If you decide not to support the war, you deserve honor as a true patriot – one willing to put personal acceptance on the line for the meaning and value of democracy and to serve the country by insisting that its government act honorably.

Are we seeking power for power’s sake? Or are we seeking to make the world and our nation better places to live? If we seek the latter, violence can never provide the answer. – M. L. King, Jr., 1967

Yours in Peace -- BR

No comments: