I always struggle - struggle deeply - with Veterans Day and church side by side. My grandfather was a veteran of World War II, serving in the Pacific at the end of the war during the occupation of Japan. He never really spoke much about the time he spent there - he would talk about the pretty ladies he met when he went out (he was not married yet), about the mischief he would get into...the uncoupling of train cars and sending them down hills...but not much about what he did in his role as a US soldier. After watching his response to the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan - I still remember his face - I could understand why he did not talk much. He never really pushed for me to consider a career or stint in the military, in fact, I think he was grateful I did not choose that route.
My dad is also a veteran. He served in Germany during Vietnam, I think he worked on generators and drove trucks. My dad, like my grandfather, did not really talk much about that time. Growing up I would say dad and I were rather antagonistic of one another, and when he would suggest going into the army I would resist and suggest something like becoming a diplomat. Partially it was that adolescent and teenage angst that would make me say that, but it was also my belief then that there had to be something better than war.
I wonder if I would have been one of those ‘make love not war’ folks flashing a peace sign climbing into a VW bus. Well, I highly doubt I would have been that crazy.
However, I did pursue the path of education that would have led to the Foreign Service. I went to a small college in Illinois just outside Chicago and majored in political science (with an international relations focus) and geography (social geography - like political and economic geography). My language prep consisted of French and Russian...and a bit of German.
During that time I also became more connected to my faith and scripture. I realized that peace and nonviolence was something that should have been a common thread between Christians. Christ was not just a peacemaker, but a proponent of nonviolence even at the cost of being crucified by the occupying empire. Even before Christ, the prophet Isaiah called us to pound our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks. But our swords became automatic machine guns and our spears tanks, fighter jets and nuclear bombs.
Humanity, throughout history, has perfected war and killing. We have yet to even grasp peace and nonviolence. A quick Google search showed that there were possibly more US presidents that served during war or conflict than peace.
Yet, our veterans have served with the hopes of peace and prosperity - not just for themselves but for all humanity. The 100th anniversary of Armistice Day reminds us that no one person enters into service to cause more wars...but to hopefully lead to an end of conflicts. I know my grandfather wished that. I know that my dad wishes that. I struggle with Veterans Day and church side by side because I think I focus on how we have failed our veterans in the promise of peace. Yet that should not take away from honoring them and thanking them for their service. They did what many were unwilling to do - put themselves in harm's way for the sake of others. Winston Churchill said, after the Battle of Britain, “never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” That was true then and that is true today.
I pray for all our veterans. Perhaps this Christmas, when we wish people peace on earth, we could think about how each of us...in our own small way...can help take a step closer to a more peace-filled world.
Yours in Christ,