Friday, November 11, 2011

Please Use Their Service Well

A powerful photograph floats around Facebook on this Veterans Day.

It depicts a woman in uniform, apparently arriving at a U.S. airport, scooping a young girl in her arms. The woman is weeping.

The caption shakes its finger at civilians while praising those who serve in the armed forces:

While you carry a $450 purse, she carries a 45lb rucksack. While you shop with your girlfriends, she cleans her rifle with her Battle Buddies. When you wear heels, she wears her combat boots. Instead of the make-up that you wear on your face to make yourself look pretty, she paints her face for camoflauge [sic]. You kiss your husband and kids goodbye for the day, she kisses hers goodbye for the year. Don't forget about the Woman in Uniform! Thank you for your service!

This is usually how it goes. The underlying message is: the people in the armed forces are defending your freedom to live the way you live. They sacrifice so we can go shopping and play video games and do all the things we do (like posting facile patriotic messages on our Facebook pages). When they fight wars, they are fighting for your "freedom," not for imperial aggression.

The truth is, the image gets to me and actually conveys my gut reaction to militarized patriotism. I am, as a matter of fact, grateful to those who serve. Most of my friends and family who have served were genuinely inspired to service, and genuinely felt that they did so in the defense or maintenance of a great nation and her people. It is a beautiful aspiration that I respect and honor. This faith on the part of young citizens makes it all the more despicable when government officials send them to faraway lands and put them in harm's way for imperial concerns, as has been our history.

Whoever this woman is, I want her to be home with her little girl. I want fathers to be home with their children. This is not patriotism, this is shared humanity. When that soldier must leave home, let her be deployed on humanitarian missions, to serve and protect people, so that she can return home with stories she can tell her little girl.

I appreciate those who wear the uniform -- to the extent that as a parent I forbid clothing that mimics the uniform for my children. It is one matter on which I put my foot down. If they wish to wear that uniform when the time comes, I will be proud of them, but it is not a game.

For the most part, I want our children in the armed forces to come home, training and being ready to defend against real threats and serving in real emergencies, home or abroad. It is inexcusable when a Hurricane Katrina devastates the homeland and our resources are spoken for in imperial wars abroad. When the soldiers must be called to endanger themselves, I want them home as soon as prudently possible, and I want them to be cared for. They should never worry about access to medical care--none of us should in the first place, and certainly not them.

The social pressure on Veterans Day is to put these concerns aside and, in a way, pay homage to military strength. The social pressure is to praise sacrifice without reflecting on what our soldiers should be sacrificing themselves for.

I won't. I won't wave a flag and ignore the problem. I want their service to be honored by taking better care of their lives, using their service well, and providing well for them once they have served.

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