I served in the military. I proudly wore the uniform of the United States Air Force for many years, but I have a hard time considering myself a veteran. I served in the United States. I never saw a combat zone. The roughest duty I had was in Alaska, separated from my family, and my wife knew Alaska was my idea of a vacation spot. Even at 30-40 below zero, I enjoyed the peace and exhilaration that comes from quietly slipping down a snowy forest trail on cross-country skis. So when I left my lady with our two little children, she could not muster any sympathy, and I did not have the nerve to ask for any.
A veteran is someone who has risked their life in the service of a great cause. A veteran is someone who has suffered for the cause. Because war is violent and bloody, we fear it. We fear it because even the survivors come back changed by the harshness of war.
What is war? I don’t really understand it. Does anyone? My father saw combat in WWII. For him, it was unspeakable. As curious as I was, I could hardly pry anything out of him. Even though he continued to serve for decades and retired from the military, he said almost nothing about his combat experiences. Therefore, I still wonder. What did I owe him for his sacrifice? What can I do for the people who risked so much for my family, friends, neighbors, countrymen, and even for me?
We can strive to win the peace.
When I went looking for the quote above, I was dumbfounded to find it supposedly belongs to a relatively obscure California congressman. I think the observation has to go back further than that. Nevertheless, each generation must rediscover the problem for itself.
During the Cold War, JFK put it this way.
The world has not escaped from the darkness. The long shadows of conflict and crisis envelop us still. But we meet today in an atmosphere of rising hope, and at a moment of comparative calm. My presence here today is not a sign of crisis, but of confidence. I am not here to report on a new threat to the peace or new signs of war. I have come to salute the United Nations and to show the support of the American people for your daily deliberations. For the value of this body’s work is not dependent on the existence of emergencies–nor can the winning of peace consist only of dramatic victories. Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures. And however undramatic the pursuit of peace, that pursuit must go on. — John F. Kennedy (from here)
We cannot completely win the peace. Until the Second Coming, we will not know peace. Still, for the sake of our family, friends, neighbors, countrymen we must strive for peace, but what does that striving mean in practice?
Consider again how JFK defined peace.
Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures. And however undramatic the pursuit of peace, that pursuit must go on.
When we are at peace with each other, we have found a way to live together without resorting to violence. That involves compromises, and it is difficult to work out and maintain those compromises. During the Civil War, for example, no compromise could be found. Therefore, by the end of that war, the combatants had filled our graveyards with the bodies of the fallen. The survivors became veterans.
To win the peace — to maintain the peace — requires hard work and sacrifice from each of us. We cannot rightfully sit back as an observer — enjoy the fireworks — and turn the work of building peace over to someone else. We must participate in gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, and quietly building new structures.
Consider a couple of disparate examples.
- Donald Trump is now president. During the transition, he will begin the process of appointing his cabinet and many other government officials. Because personnel equates to policy, we will learn from his appointments just how serious he is about his campaign promises. Contact the man any way you can. Make yourself heard in letters to the editor and in emails and phone calls to your Senators and Congressmen. Explain how you expect our elected leaders to help us — WE THE PEOPLE — make America Great Again.
- There is a move afoot to recall Prince William County’s School Board Chairman, Mr. Ryan Sawyers. The following news article describes the effort: Committee Petitions to Recall School Board Chairman. If we agree with the petition drive and live in Prince William County, then we should make some effort to support it.
As citizens, we must carefully select, help, and monitor our elected officials. Sometimes we even have to insist that they find something else to do with their time. That is how Americans win peace among themselves and with the citizens of other nations. Striving to win and keep the peace is how we show our respect for our veterans.
When we take part in the development and execution of public policy, we can work to avoid sending good men and women to war. Because we respect the sacrifices required by war, we must strive to avoid asking anyone to make such sacrifices. However, when the only option is warfare, we must continue working for peace. Then we must do our best to support our military forces and see to it we celebrate their sacrifices on Veterans Day, not Memorial Day.