GUEST VOICE: Veterans Day 2009, Military Man Does Not “Honor the Troops,” Rather The Person
This GUEST VOICE piece is by Rafael Jesús González from California, on Veterans’ Day 2009. It is a perspective on ‘supporting the troops’ …or not. I brought it here to give a small x-ray into how one family’s three generations of soldiers is evolving nearly ninety years after what was supposed to have been ‘the war to end all wars, World War One’
…GUEST VOICE by Rafael Jesús González
I am leery of being asked to honor veterans of almost any war, except as I honor the suffering, the being of every man or woman who ever lived.
I am sick of “patriotism” behind which so many scoundrels hide.
I am sick of war that has stained almost every year of my life.
Especially now, in the midst of yet another unjustified, immoral, illegal, untenable, cynical, cruel war our nation wages in Iraq, in Afghanistan.
I am impatient with fools who ask whether I “support our troops.”
What does it mean to “support our troops”? What is a troop but a herd, a flock, a band? What is a troop but a group of actors whose duty it is not to reason why, but to do and die?
In the years I served in the Navy and Marine Corps as a medic, I never took care of a troop; I took care of men who had been wounded and hurt, who cut themselves and bled, who suffered terrible blisters on their feet from long marches, who fell ill sick with high fevers.
If to support means to carry the weight of, keep from falling, slipping, or sinking, give courage, faith, help, comfort, strengthen, provide for, bear, endure, tolerate, yes, I did, and do support all men and women unfortunate enough to go to war.
Troops, I do not. If to support means to give approval to, be in favor of, subscribe to, sanction, uphold, then I do not. The decision to make war was/is not theirs to make; troops are what those who make the decisions to war use (to kill and to be killed, to be brutalized into torturers) for their own ends, not for the sake of the men and woman who constitute the “troops.”
I honor veterans of war the only way in which I know how to honor: with compassion; with respect; with understanding for how they were/are used, misled, indoctrinated, coerced, wasted, hurt, abandoned; with tolerance for their beliefs and justifications; with efforts to see that their wounds, of body and of soul, are treated and healed, their suffering and sacrifice compensated.
I never refuse requests for donations to any veterans’ organization that seeks benefits and services for veterans. I honor veterans, men and women; not bands, not troops.
A Note On Evolution in Family Viewpoint As Cultures Evolve, or Lag
by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés…
So much turns and evolves in the generations of a military family, in any family that has a hand in trying to ride the culture before them. I think of Tyrone Steels’ family (He is TMV’s site admin and a writer) which has layers of civil rights marchers, black panthers, quiet shy people, bold outspoken people, and those who do not entirely conform to the previous generations’ ideas about politics and conduct of life in the public sphere.
And yet, they care for one another, and for others. There are many families who honor and respect each other–and others– even though their ways of seeing the world, their ways of conduct in the world, differ.
Veterans’ Day is not just a day of remembrance. It was literally meant as THE day on EARTH that there would never again be war. It was originally to fasten the idea to the wall of humankind that the world had just experienced in sorrow “the war which would end all wars.” Amongst many, the belief was that so great were the horrors, depredations, and devastations of WWI, the piles and piles and piles of the bones of the dead across the world, that all horrified just souls, were saying, Never war again.
So the history of Veterans’ Day grew from bloody world soil. When the First World War officially ended June 28, 1919, the actual fighting had already stopped… it has become legend that it stopped on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month the previous year. Armistice Day, as that ‘end to war’ was known, later became a national holiday, and in 1954 (the year Rafael Jesús González, the author of the above piece, graduated from high school), the name was changed to Veterans Day to honor all U.S. veterans of all wars.
Rafael Jesús González’ grandfather Benjamín Armijo from New Mexico was a veteran of WWI, “an old man who seldom spoke and [who wore] his cap of The American Legion. (He was also Republican.) Three of González’ uncles, Roberto, Armando, and Enrique, fought in WWII. As a child missing his uncles, González remembers his uncles photos “on my grandmother’s home altar, very handsome in their uniforms; endless rosaries and litanies the women in the family regularly met to pray; and the three blue stars that hung in the window.”
His uncle Roberto, tío Beto… came home with ulcers and los nevrios, nerves. His uncle Armando, tío Pana, in the Infantry division… served in the Pacific Theater, and Guadalcanal. His uncle Enrique, tío Kiki, the youngest, in the Airborne Division, the “Screaming Eagles”, served in the European Theater and parachuted into the taking of Germany.
And after that war ended, “they came home, tío Pana into a hospital, sick with malaria which affected him throughout this life; tío Kiki with a malady in the soul not so easily diagnosed, hidden in his quiet humor, gentle ways. All my uncles were gentle men, in all senses of the word.” And Beto, Pana, Kiki were of a time that men felt they were made less if they were to speak of pain, of what they had seen, what they had done…
And thus comes before us with his writing today, the once little boy who witnessed the grit of gentle strong soldiers in his own family, and he now, Rafael Jesús González, is himself an old man. And he writes, as you read above… an evolution of thought and feeling, rinsed through many generations of soldiers’ courage and compassion.
There’s a lot of bragadoccio in some who claim to be veterans, but it’s far more often that a war vet is like González’ uncles, grandfather, González himself: reflective, not knowing all the answers, thinking, doing what is within their reach to truly touch and not just talk. I’ve not yet met a WW II vet who calls himself from ‘the greatest generation,’ which is actually the title of a book created by Tom Brokaw and the marketing department of his publisher.
But I have met many WWII vets who are warm men, who are real and human and good, and who push away any inflated moniker that separates them from other ordinary humans who have once upon a time done one or more extraordinary things and under duress. The grief of war is not that the superhuman are killed. The grief of war is that souls who are sweet and complicated and all that is utterly and divinely human… are slaughtered.
Returning to the headline: It’s easy to take sides, ‘support the troops’ or not… but it’s grown into a trite phrase/question for many. Rather, seeing behind the either/or of that limp litmus, just for a little bit, was the intent of this article I placed for you here. A small x-ray of one aspect of one family of soldiers from three different generations.
Blessed Veterans’ Day
military wife (DH 21 years USAF, now at VA processing prostheses for vets)