First of all it is important to ask ourselves the question, "Just what is it that we honor today?" I've heard the word "sacrifice," and this is certainly true. But I also hear the ideological tone-deaf rhetoric of "defending liberty," and "protecting democracy." I've heard the brain-dead, moribund, inherently racist logic of nationalism ("my country, right or wrong") as well as the morally bankrupt philosophy of chauvinistic jingoism. I rarely hear of the terror and horror of war and inhumanity of the indoctrination into the life of militarism.
Let us lay ideology aside for a moment and state in plain words what the military is about: the mission of the military is to kill people and destroy property. A veteran is someone who was trained to kill people and destroy property for political and economic purposes. These are simple, plain words that are so seldom uttered. Why? Because the true mission of the military is a disgrace and veterans have taken part in the machinery of such shameful practice. To cloak ourselves in a mantle of lofty words and idealism does not heal the chasm we have widened within the collective soul by our very choices. Any veteran of any courage and integrity will want to see an end to such madness. Any veteran lacking in such integrity and courage will continue to live the contradiction, veil the hypocrisies, balm the wounds of callousness, and extend his or her own pain outward to the broader circle, thereby perpetuating the cruel philosophy that will be the undoing we shall all possess in tandem.
The best way to honor me and all other veterans of wars is to disarm our hearts, disarm our nation, and disarm the world. This is not a call to passivity. It is a call to resistance. It is a call to stand up to those who choose violence. It is a call to reject the military and the culture of militarism that props it up. It is a call to build a better world starting today. This will require a daily choice and a daily commitment. Every day offers us the choice between violence and nonviolence; every day offers us a choice between non-cooperation with evil and the acquiescence to or participation in evil.
As Albert Camus put it in his great 1946 essay on nonviolence entitled "Neither Victim Nor Executioner," "This is the great political question of our times, and before dealing with other issues, one must take a position on it. Before anything can be done, two questions must be put: 'Do you, or do you not, directly or indirectly, want to be killed or assaulted? Do you or do you not, directly or indirectly, want to kill or assault?' All who say No to both these questions are automatically committed to a series of consequences which must modify their way of posing the problem."
Let us choose wisely, for the very future of humanity is at stake.
This story was published on November 13, 2004.