Unless you have a government job it’s likely you have to work today (Monday, Nov. 11) even though it’s a national Holiday. It’s Veterans Day, honoring all those who have served in the armed forces. I know I get confused too, the other one, Memorial Day, last Spring, is designated to honor those who have died in the service of our country.
And to make matters even more confusing, this used to be Armistice Day to commemorate the end of World War I and those who died in the war and before that, maybe known as Remembrance Day, to honor Civil War dead — do I have my history right in that? Not sure.
But anyway on Sunday evening I watched a documentary about a unit of American soldiers in the war in Afghanistan. It was called “Restrepo”, named after one of their own, a doctor, who was killed right after they got over there. They later built a forward base, in between being shot at — shoot a little, dig a little, and repeat– and named it in his honor. And they were able to take the fight to the enemy (Taliban/Al Qaeda?) rather than hole up in a purely defensive position, but not without losses, of course.
As always is the case when I see these things, it impresses me that the young soldiers seem so mature and intelligent, but at the same time not without their youthful playfulness and sometimes irreverence. This unit seemed to be fortunate to have good leadership.
It seemed that the soldiers believed in what they were doing, that they were committed to the mission.
But the terrible ambiguity of it all came out as well. They unwittingly or by circumstances beyond their control injured and killed local family members and destroyed their houses — people who may have had no connection with the enemy, or maybe by the fact they are natives of where they are they did have some connection — but little children and their mothers? The unavoidable tragedy of war.
They helped the people in various road and building projects, as well as accidentally killed some at times, not to mention their livestock.
And we are stuck, or our forces are, trying to win the hearts and minds of the people. Not an easy task when you sometimes end up killing innocents and destroying their homes and property in the process (the hazard of collateral damage).
The soldiers will come and go, but the Afghan native is stuck there in his and her own reality. And we won’t be there forever. We can’t last it out that long and also have to face the reality we can hardly run our own country, let alone theirs.
Some have suggested that we should have responded to the 9/11 attack more as a police investigation and simply gone after the perpetrators. It was not an act of war committed by one state or nation against another. It was more complicated than that. But then the war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda has seemed necessary in order to weaken the forces of terror that brought that terror to our own shores.
And this was not supposed to be a post about a war, but about Veterans Day.
Veterans have been called upon to do everything from fighting their own brothers in the Civil War, or the War Between the States for those of you brought up in Southern culture, to coming to the aid of our allies in Europe in two world wars, to fighting off communist aggression, to now fighting against world-wide terror — a job that seems open ended, well until the money runs out.
I deeply question our foreign policy at times, and I also question whether our armed forces should be more of a defensive force or if we should continue as we do now and use them as an instrument of geo-political politics and overall foreign policy.
But I don’t question those who have honorably served their country in peacetime and war.
And maybe I am wrong that it’s mostly government employees who get the day off. But anyway, hopefully you will do more than take the day off or avail yourself of the various Veterans Day sales (although our economy can use that I suppose), but instead also take time to honor veterans and if there is some function to that end, maybe attend if you can.
Better yet, or just as well, get that documentary “Restrepo” and watch it. I got if off my Kindle, but I am sure it’s available through the other wide variety of sources we have in this computer/digital age.
And as a promotion for it said: “Watch it and you be the judge”.