Friday, November 12, 2010

Mixed Messages on Veterans' Day

This is about mixed messages and a personal reflection.

The kindergarten was led into the gym for the assembly, with all the boys wearing plastic military helmets and their faces painted in camouflage. It felt as though everyone in the room adored this, but I was reminded of child soldiers and my stomach sank. Did no one else find this a bit -- off? There were no girl soldiers. The girls wore blue or red paper vests and paper tiaras with little stars painted on their faces.

Taking my seat behind the kindergarten infantry, I viewed the hour-long assembly and sang along with all of the songs.

My question from yesterday was still present in my mind. What is the message of Veterans' Day? What is the message of our assembly? There was a mix of messages, in fact.

SERVICE. A great many veterans were present, with nearly all branches of the military represented. A police officer who is also a marine and a war veteran spontaneously had two children from each classroom find the veterans in the room and personally greet them and say thanks. This was well worth the time. For those individuals, this seemed to make a bigger difference than anything else we did at the assembly.

NATIONALISM. We are the best country in the world, was the basic message. These men and women joined the military because we are the richest and most privileged country and we need to keep it that way. I am crudely paraphrasing, but that was the gist of a short video presentation and two of the speeches heard yesterday.

WAR IS HARD BUT GLORIOUS. There were banners on the walls with the names of conflicts: World War I, World War II, Vietnam, Granada, Operation Iraqi Freedom. Interesting that no non-combat, humanitarian operations got banners. The wars are presumably more costly in terms of human sacrifice, and therefore not equivalent, yet this also creates the appearance that war is being celebrated. Most veterans I know who have seen combat do not celebrate war.

Yet the sense of celebration was underscored in the slide show of photographs from numerous twentieth century wars and our present wars, photos of explosions and combat planes and soldiers running around. The kids, predictably, oooh'd and aaaah'd.

Including the five year old boys who, I remind you, were dressed up in camouflage.

"Freedom isn't free" is the platitude spoken while these images are projected for the children. The venue does not permit anyone to raise their hand and ask, "Whose freedom are we really talking about?"

WAR IS PART OF OUR COUNTRY. War is presented as something that simply exists, not as something human beings do. It is not questioned. The assumption is that we live in a world where we will always need to wage war. Very little is said about why, but what is said -- reiterated all week long in the morning announcements -- is that we have a better situation than most of the world, and in order to keep that privileged position, we need people to fight wars to protect our privileges.

Wow. Points for honesty, I suppose, acknowledging the imperial nature of what's going on.

"Our Country, in dealing with other countries, may she always be right; but it is still our country, right or wrong." But who gets to judge, and when our country is wrong, what is our responsibility?

BEING AMERICAN MEANS BEING CHRISTIAN. First Amendment, establishment clause, be gone. "The fourth fold represents our weaker nature, for as American citizens trusting in God, it is to Him we turn in times of peace as well as in time of war for His divine guidance." And just to be clear: "The 11th fold represents the lower portion of the seal of King David and King Solomon and glorifies in the Hebrews' eyes, the God of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob." "The 12th fold represents an emblem of eternity and glorifies, in the Christian's eyes, God the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit." And there was more like that.

There is no pussyfooting here. This is about a declaration, and teaching children as early as age five, that while we may tolerate different religions, the true American citizen is one who believes and answers to one specific God.


I've been asked how I might react if my son grows up and desires to wear the uniform of his country. There is no way to answer with certainty. By the time he is eligible, I'll be 55.

There is a (mercifully short) story to be told: "How Algernon Almost Went Into the Military." Rarely told.

And it won't be told right now, because my boy is awake. And he is not wearing camouflage. He is wearing PJ's and asking for a graham cracker. This will need to be continued.


Petteri Sulonen said...

This song was written by Boris Grebenshchikov, during the twilight years of the USSR. I think it's strangely apposite to the US today.

(Clumsy) translation mine. Video here: [ ]

Train on Fire

Colonel Walker arrived at the front
with his newly-wedded wife.
Colonel Walker assembled his troops
and told them – let us go home;

We're waging war now for seventy years,
they've taught us to live in fear.
But according to the latest intelligence,
the war has been with our own.

I have seen generals,
who drink and eat our death.
Their children take leave of their senses,
for having nothing to want anymore.

And the earth lies in tatters,
churches are confused with evil;
If we would have somewhere to go back to,
it's time that we went back home.

This train is on fire,
we have nothing left to reap.
This train is on fire,
we have nowhere else to run.
This land belonged to us,
before they took us to war.
She will die if she belongs to no-one;
It's time we took back this land.

Around us burn torches –
carried by a column of our fallen units;
The men who shoot at our fathers,
are devising plans for our children.

We grew up to the sound of trumpets,
they put into us the fear of jail,
But we have yet to crawl on our bellies:
We have already come back home.

This train is on fire,
we have nothing left to reap.
This train is on fire,
we have nowhere else to run.
This land belonged to us,
before they took us to war.
She will die if she belongs to no-one;
It's time we took back this land.

Nathan said...

I find most of this petty sickening to be honest. I couldn't do a Veteran's Day post because I just don't know what to say about it. I want those who have suffering in war to be cared for and that we might use the day to reflect on how we could act differently about conflict in the future, but that's not what it's about, really. The assembly at your school certainly wasn't about that, and I don't think what you experienced is a rare exception - it's the norm.

Kelly said...

I look forward to the story of Algernon and the Military.

In my neck of the woods, camo doesn't necessarily equal military.