Saturday, November 11, 2006

Happy Veteran's Day

Long ago and far away, when I was nineteen or twenty, I went to work at a certain post office. The year was 1978. There, I became close friends with a co-worker who was 26 and fresh out of the Marines, where he'd been in the Military Police. While his service was in the earlier 1970's, he was a bit late for Vietnam, and was assigned elsewhere overseas. He'd taken a serious bullet just a few days into his first real hitch, and received a *battlefield promotion* to sergeant for bringing down the perpetrator despite his own severe wounds, saving the lives of fellow Marines.

I was opposed to the Vietnam War, and remain opposed to that and certain other wars. While I'm not a pacifist in the manner of the Amish, I greatly dislike war. I hold the view that while war is sometimes a necessary evil, it's not necessary nearly as often as we make it. So we had some interesting discussions, my Marine friend and I.

I finally learned how to clearly understand and articulate much of what troubles me about war. I feel very strongly that everyone has a right to self-defense, for example, and wanted to resolve that inner conflict. I learned so very much by discussing these issues not with someone who agreed with me, but someone who was both quite intelligent and well-educated about the military and military history - and disagreed with me on many points about war. There's been no one else in my life who could have helped me understand all this nearly as well. Not even close.

In that time of terrible treatment of our own fighters by our own people, he was willing to talk about all this with someone who was against that war.

You, my readers, hold a wide variety of beliefs. That's precisely how I prefer it. If I only hang around with people who think or look or believe the same way I do, I learn nothing. I teach nothing. Worst of all, I am bored.

All my life, I've sat and talked with people from all walks of life, from all beliefs, and find my experience and understanding far richer as a result. Associating with someone doesn't mean I agree with everything they do or say. This seems obvious to me, but isn't always to others. One memorable and long-term discussion session, encompassing many weeks of sitting by a pool and talking for hours within our small circle of neighbors, included an avowed KKK member and his wife.

I absolutely disagree with everything the KKK holds dear. This doesn't mean I'll refuse to socialize with a KKK member on general principle: they too are entitled to their beliefs. Yet neither did I pretend I went along with their position. While refusing to argue, my occasional small comments, questions, and observations made my own position quite clear. To the credit of my cordial and sociable adversaries, that was tolerated, too.

My sister roundly excoriated me for passing up this excellent *opportunity* to show these people why they were so wrong - to convert them, in a sense. Otherwise, I should express my disapproval by refusing to talk with them any longer. I replied that I refuse to be bigoted against bigots, and feel they may well have interesting and intelligent points to make. Indeed, they taught me things I wanted to learn. And...I have reason to think I planted a few seeds that had them questioning some of their own beliefs. That can be far more effective than arguing.

Without that experience, I would never have heard the very interesting explanations of why they felt as they did. To my quiet - but great - satisfaction, I also heard how to them at least, the KKK had lost its power and its self-respect, even a portion of its validity. Its base no longer consisted of only the cream of the crop of any town; instead, many members were skinheads, considered very inferior beings by this KKK member. So much so that he'd actually let his membership lapse.

That was some fifteen years ago. To this day, I remain glad I took the approach I did: to listen to them despite my profound disagreement. Hearing from an ardent Klanner that the Klan had become, to him, something disorganized and disrespectable was a very great pleasure indeed.

Of course, we see on the internet that not everyone goes along with my approach. Some use their blogs, or their comments, as vehicles for ranting. Venting. Blowing off steam, as opposed to the dispassionate type of discussion that I feel is the best way to arrive at the truth. Surely there's a time and place for venting too. But a few of those folks become so aggrieved at the very concept of *tolerance* of different viewpoints that they sever internet relations with those who advocate it.

Perhaps some of those readers come here, and now, will cease to do so. If so? I am sorry to lose your readership. Your thoughts, opinions, comments are of value to me. Without them, my quest - that journey I'm on to understand life and truth - is made that little bit more difficult.

I've said this many times and I repeat it again: I belong to no group. I align myself with no political party or platform. My voter registration card shows no party, not even *Independent* - Independent is still a group. Instead it says NPA, for *No Party Affiliate.* Nobody - nobody - speaks for me except for myself.

To me, it's the only way to freely arrive at the truth. And the only way to live accordingly. Once one joins a group, sooner or later a time will come when either our own beliefs must be subjugated to differing beliefs of that group, or we are cast down or cast out. Our networks, ties, social relationships, the very pattern of our lives can be damaged or destroyed.

Yet to adhere to, even advocate, a position we disagree with is to live a lie. Living a lie will destroy us too, eating away from within like poison. Our trust in the righteousness of our group has been betrayed. I will not, ever, put myself in that position.

I don't view politics the way most everyone else does - my very starting point is different, and I hope you'll forgive me for not explaining it just yet - so I rarely discuss politics.

I'm not going to now, either.

Instead I return to my friend, the former Marine. I want to address a point I've heard on the net many times: that to say one is opposed to a particular war, but still appreciates and respects the armed forces involved in that war, is a lie.

Perhaps for some it is. For me, it is not.

It seems in modern times it's not soldiers, but politicians, who start wars. Our armed forces are under civilian control. If those politicians are mistaken in their instigation or prosecution of that war, how in the world could I blame the warriors fighting it? If I'm right and those politicians wrong, then our warriors have been wrongly put in harm's way by the very same politicians I disagree with. That's unjust indeed. Whether the warriors feel those politicians were right or wrong is not material here: what I am saying is that they are not responsible for starting the conflict.

I know myself - I understand what it is that I believe. I know I'm not misrepresenting my beliefs when I say I can separate those fighting for our country from those who set any particular fight in motion.

I appreciate what those in the armed services do for us. Generally speaking, they join up believing they're doing something right, something worthwhile. They put themselves in a level of danger that others will not accept. I know their motives for signing up are as varied as any set of people are. I don't care. Outside of criminal acts, I don't hold them accountable for following their superiors' orders. That's what they're supposed to do. That's their job.

When time passes and new armed conflicts arise, sometimes we forget those that fought in days gone by. I don't ever forget what my friend did. I've seen his scars and they are terrible. Huge chunks of flesh were gouged out of his thigh. It took months in the hospital to heal, and it was luck that kept him from amputation. When he was finally healed? He went back on duty.

The person who shot him had gone wild and crazy and was trying to kill as many people on base as he could. Terribly wounded and bleeding badly, my friend still had the presence of mind to sight upon, and accurately shoot, this person running amok before he got out of range and able to kill more innocent people. It was my friend's quick thinking and quick action - this by someone completely new to his job - that saved countless lives.

Now: That is a hero.

Every year, on November 11, I call my friend to say *Happy Veteran's Day.*

I can't quite remember when this tradition started. I may have missed a few years at the very beginning. I do know it's been going on for so long that I can't remember how many years it's been. Lots.

Sometimes he's out and I get his answering machine. That happened today. I was a bit disappointed, but I figured he was probably training or running. Here in his 50's he's taken up marathoning. His mission? To simultaneously improve his health, and raise money to cure blood cancers like leukemia. That's the kind of guy he is.

I'm so unaccustomed to talking on the phone any more, especially to friends instead of health care workers, I sort of forgot at the end just who I was leaving a message for. Like many of us, my friend and I now communicate almost entirely by web and email. My personal phone calls with a male are with Walter. We can use 6000 minutes a month and not even notice.

So at the very end of my Happy Veteran's Day message, I goofed - the same way I do sometimes with my nephew. I used a habitual term of endearment I usually reserve just for Walter, and said something to the effect of *Whatever you're off doing, baby, I hope you have a good day.*


And sitting here all by myself, with no one to see, still my face went beet red.

Did I explain earlier that deep down inside, I'm very shy?

I quick hung up the phone and giggled helplessly.

Well. All things considered, I guess he can probably handle it.


Cindi said...

Right on to all that you said! Ironically, a large number of blogs I enjoy reading, I can tell from their blog posts and the comments that they are the exact opposite of me politically speaking. I choose not to get into debates about certain political issues especially on someone else's blog because I have witnessed when others have tried to do the same (in a healthy non-confrontational way)that they get tromped on by other commenters and labeled as a "troll". I don't understand why people can't just accept that other people have their opinions and you (the general you) have yours. Life would be boring if we were all the same. Believe me, I am quite passionate in my own political beliefs and like you I don't like to label myself or align myself with any one party. I just met a guy at work (he is a new employee) and after discussing a lot of different things we timidly approached the subject of politics. Turns out we are on the same page so to speak and it was refreshing to be able to speak freely without being judged. On the other hand I have other friends that have differing viewpoints but we have other commonalities. So it all works out. My ex boyfriend and I could never talk politics. We were exact opposites on the "issues" and he would misconstrue things I would say or try to "overtalk" me or roll his eyes at me. We decided early on to accept we were not changing our minds and just didn't discuss politics anymore. lol

I have the utmost respect for our military men and women. Many in my family have been in the military and served during wartime. Being against the war does not mean you are against the men and women serving. To me they are two totally different things but a lot of people don't see it that way and I don't know why. My ex husband served during Vietnam and in later years he told me he was against that war but he did what he had to do.

Jean said...

I really, REALLY like the way you think... exceptional post!!

Kenny said...


I look forward to your comments and views. I have read you for a very short time but I apperciate your view. I think you will see over time that I lean to the right I have had friends draw a bell curve on politics then draw a picture of smoke way off in the distance. They told me that was the smoke from my camp fire. Not sure what they were trying to tell me but it was a good laugh

k said...

Cindi, I get the same feeling reading most of my own favorite blogs. Sometimes it makes me sad, because every single day I read statements I not only disagree with, they deliberately insult precisely what I do believe in. Yet I set that aside in good humor and enjoy reading the parts that interest me.

I know exactly what you're talking about WRT the comments and other commenters. Just asking an innocent
question - much less politely stating a dissenting opinion - will call in the Jump Down Your Throat squad.

Yet they're the same ones who actively, even vehemently, insult me. I can take that, but they can't take courteous debate.

The reason why has to do with goals. I want to understand. Many others want simply to vent, or to browbeat dissenters into silence or into changing their minds. Appearances factor in, too - it's a social display. The goal there is acceptance and validation by the chosen group.

We're social creatures. But I believe that's an unhealthy way to satisfy our social urges.

Jean, thank you! That means a lot to me, coming from you, because I respect your thinking and writing too.

kenny, you crack me up. I get called a *left leaner* from time to time - along with every other label out there, no matter how conflicting with the label before! Thank goodness you, too, think for yourself, and don't run around condemning me for my own thoughts.

What your friends were describing is something statisticians call the Statistical Outlier. It means a piece of data that's so far out of the clump they have to totally disregard it.

Me, I've been a Statistical Outlier all my life. Next time I have reason to think about that? I can call to mind the smoke from your Outlying Campfire.


Jean said...

Striving for understanding is, to me, the essence of life! And, to understand and, thus, learn, requires listening to all... and determining our own evaluation.
Like you, k, ALL people fascinate me.

Nancy said...

well said my dear

Cindi said...

"Sometimes it makes me sad, because every single day I read statements I not only disagree with, they deliberately insult precisely what I do believe in."

Oh Lordy, this has happened to me numerous times! Not just while reading (or other forms of media) about politics but also subjects regarding religion and "body acceptance".

I remember many years ago I was watching The Johnny Carson show and his guest was the actress Chloris Leachman. She went off on a rant about "fat people" and said the most insulting and crude things adding something along the lines that she would be happy if all fat people were just "put out of their misery" and removed from society. (I was in my early 20's and struggling with my weight) The studio audience roared with what I perceived as approving laughter and not only that but my beloved Johnny Carson was laughing too. It was stinging and hurt my feelings. I am sure that a lot of overweight people had been part of her appreciative audience over the years and had helped her line her pockets making a living as an actress. It was a slap in the face to me. I felt a bit pissy towards Johnny too for going along with it.

Having said that, you know the saying about judging those by the company they keep? Well, I don't entirely agree with that. There are many blogs I regularly enjoy reading but I don't have them on my blogroll just for the mere fact that I think many readers might ascribe to the above old saying and think that because I read them that must mean that is who I am. You know what I mean?

Diversity is a good thing! Sometimes I feel like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. It would be too easy to just go find a round hole. Too comfortable. It is more fun to widen the horizons and I learn a lot more about the human condition and along the way gain better understanding about what makes people click. Sorry this is so long!!!!

Thank you also for your kind comment at my place today. It made me go "awww"!

Desert Cat said...

One thing to consider is that, at this point in the conflicts (Afghanistan and Iraq), a sizeable majority of the enlistees are either new or recently re-enlisted.

It is hard for me to conceive of a soldier voluntarily re-enlisting during a time of war for a mission he does not believe in.

This is a very different situation than during the Vietnam war, when most soldiers were draftees.

prettylady said...

Gorgeous post! I was going to quote it, but could not find a small-enough chunk to quote, so I will leave it unmolested.

In my view, the very process of 'politics' is what I believe is the problem. By its very nature, it is about power-play, winning and losing and dominating; it is the enemy of the truth. This is why I do not believe there ARE political solutions to problems. There is only love, or the lack of it. You are a warrior for love, and I salute you.

k said...

Well, thank you all for your comments. I really appreciate the appreciation!

Cindi, I never knew that about Cloris Leachman. I always thought she was an exceptional actress and an intelligent woman, and courteous too. That's precisely the kind of mean-spiritedness that sets me off.

I think many people don't understand that not forcing oneself into that round hole takes some determination. I've heard, too often, that people who don't fit are somehow Not Taking a Stand. I think it's just the opposite.

And I know exactly what you mean about listing all the places one reads. If I ever figure out how to blogroll, I'll have to make a decision about that. So far my instincts say, Go ahead and put in the ones I read. They'll be varied enough that it won't make sense to someone trying to figure out where I stand by my blogroll rather than posts.

DC, I've chosen not to go into the war issue on this blog, or just rarely for some peripheral reason. But on this particular point? People frequently do things that don't seem logical at first. I've read the writings of, heard of, and personally spoken with a significant number of re-enlisters who do so for economic incentives, for example - even when the mission at hand is one they don't agree with.

In a way, they seem MORE *believer:* they're willing to go back there for their country, even though this particular mission seems wrong to them. Many in the services, in many different wars, have fought under those conditions - Cindi's ex among them. I don't respect them any less for it. Sadly, they sometimes get called *unpatriotic* by exactly the same people who are much more *hawk* than I am. I think that dishonors their service.

One point I was trying to make was that I myself wish them *Happy Veteran's Day* even when they disagreed with their mission. They still felt it was their duty or their proper job, and they went and fought. I see no reason to honor them any less.

Pretty Lady, I too believe politics is antithetical to truth. Whether there can be political solutions to problems, I'm still puzzling over. I do feel that we need to work together for our common good.

I have NO objection to ranting in and of itself. Even if ranting is the author's only purpose, let them have at it. Truly. It's why I said there's a time and purpose for venting.

I do think this distinction applies, and should be remembered: the goal of blowing off steam is a DIFFERENT goal than seeking the truth. They aren't mutually exclusive. However, if that distinction is forgotten, it has a deleterious effect on problem solving. IMO, anyway.