Veterans’ Day with Dad

Today, the United States and many other countries honor their military veterans. What began as a commemoration of the end of the Great War became a time to honor all veterans when it turned out that “the war to end all wars” sadly was not.

When I was growing up, it seemed that most of the men I knew were veterans. My dad served as a SeaBee ( US Navy Construction Battalion) in both World War II and the Korean Conflict. Because WWII involved so many people, most of my friends’ fathers and uncles had served, too. There were a few women who had served as well, but there were not many opportunities for them in the military at that time. Perhaps because so many had served, these veterans did not tend to talk much about their service, choosing instead to just about building their peacetime lives.

I also knew some Vietnam vets. In my rural area, the Vietnam vets were treated respectfully, but sadly we saw on the news that in other places they were unjustly vilified for an unpopular war. When I was a child, the draft was still ongoing, which led some men to become teachers solely to escape being drafted, as teaching was a protected profession. While some went on to become fine teachers, some of these men should never have become teachers and did a poor job of it for thirty years until they could retire. I have experienced this legacy as both a student and a parent.

The US military has been all-volunteer for the last several decades. In contrast to my dad’s generation when a large percentage of young adult males served in the military, now only a tiny percentage of eligible men and women serve. I can count on my fingers the number of people I know from our circle of friends, neighbors, and my spouse’s co-workers who are currently serving, including a high-school classmate of my daughter’s – and daughter of one of my husband’s co-workers – who was a top-ranked cadet at West Point. Meanwhile, the strains of thirteen years of war have fallen on a small number of military personnel, including National Guard troops, and their families. I don’t have an answer for this problem, but it does – or should – weigh heavily on the national consciousness and conscience.

Today, I’ll be celebrating at a lunch with my dad at a local restaurant that is honoring vets with a free meal to thank them for their service. It’s ironic that after decades of not making a big deal about their military service that so much recognition has more recently come to the veterans of World War II. My dad often wears a SeaBee cap when he goes out and receives thanks from passersby or fellow store customers. Once his cap even led to a pay it forward situation.

The ranks of World War II veterans have thinned considerably with time. With so few people currently serving in the military, in seventy years there will be hardly any veterans my dad’s age.

He will turn ninety in March.

I wish peace, security, respect, and good health to all veterans, in the US and around the world. Thank you for your service.

Thanks, Dad.

watch your language

I continue to watch in horror the coverage of the situation with so many children from Central America coming into the US. I am distressed by those who have no sympathy for their plight and refuse to welcome them, even for a short time, in their communities.

It pains me to hear these children – and the adults who are in the same situation – termed “illegal immigrants,” “illegal migrants,” or just plain “illegals.”

All of the children and many of the adults are actually refugees, fleeing from failed states, violence, hunger, drug gangs, crime, and a level of poverty that most from the US cannot even imagine.

The United States, Canada, European countries, and any country that borders another where there is war or famine know what it is like to offer help to refugees. The US routinely urges other countries to accept refugees fleeing war, persecution, violence, failed states, starvation, and other dire situations.  The US continues to accept and re-settle refugees in the US, sometimes temporarily, but often permanently.

Many US citizens, myself included, are descended from those who came to the United States fleeing war and famine. That the war was World War I and the famine was the potato blight in Ireland – itself set in motion by British politics – does not change the basic fact that my forebearers arrived here because they were fleeing threats in their countries.

I know that my Irish and Italian ancestors faced discrimination when they arrived here. Many did not want to welcome these newcomers, despite Emma Lazarus’s words of hope enshrined on the Statue of Liberty. (My Irish ancestors would not have seen them, but my Italian ones who arrived after the completion of the Statue of Liberty may have.)

It’s true that the US immigration system was different in those days. It’s also true that our current system has not been functional for decades, but Congress has not been able to muster the will to reform it, despite many plans and bills and speeches and the urging from a range of people from the last several presidents on down to advocates ministering to those living and working in the shadows across the country.

I believe it is our duty as human beings and as a democracy to offer refuge to those in need in our own hemisphere, especially those who have survived a perilous journey to seek safety and often family members already here in the US. Refugees should be welcomed, fed, and kept safe, while family members or sponsors are located and refugee status documents are completed.

We should also do what we can through the State Department to help failed states transform to functional ones, enabling refugees to return to a safe home and community, if they choose.

Meanwhile, it is our moral obligation to care for these refugees. I am ashamed that some want to block entrance to the United States to others in such desperate circumstances.

Postscript:  While I am not near the Southern border where the current crisis is occurring, I do live in an area that has been an official re-settlement area for refugees for decades.

Prisoners of War

I am happy to know that Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who has been the only US prisoner of war in Afghanistan for the past five years, is back in the hands of the United States armed forces. I’m glad that he will be returned to his relieved parents after he has recovered from his long imprisonment.

I am, however, dismayed by the people who are saying that he should not have been exchanged for five prisoners that the US had been holding in Guantanamo. Exchanging prisoners of war is a long-standing practice, especially near the end of the war, which is approaching quickly from the perspective of US involvement. The problem is that, due to the machinations of President George W. Bush’s administration, many people do not consider these five men as prisoners of war, instead categorizing them as”detainees” or “enemy combatants.” In this way, they have skirted international law about how prisoners of war are to be treated and blocked moves to release them or even bring them to trial. This shameful behavior has to stop. Prisoners of war have to be called prisoners of war and justly treated as such, in accord with international treaties to which the US is a signatory. Congress, having authorized the president to conduct the war, should not intervene as they have been doing in what is essentially a military matter to be handled by the chain of command up to the commander-in-chief.

The other issue that critics are lamenting is that the United States negotiated with terrorists. However, the exchange was negotiated through a third party, the government of Qatar. The US did not directly negotiate with the Taliban. The US did not release the prisoners to the Taliban. Again, we have a problem with words and with history. The war in Afghanistan was fought against the Taliban, which was the ruling party at the time, because they were sheltering Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda was the terrorist organization against which the US-led coalition was fighting; the Taliban was the ruling party of the country in which many Al-Qaeda members were hiding. The Taliban who became US prisoners were fighting for the government of Afghanistan; while it fits the narrative of critics of the current administration to portray them as terrorists now, it doesn’t fit the fact that these five men were part of the ruling government of Afghanistan, which should make them prisoners of war. Although the Taliban no longer rules Afghanistan, it doesn’t change the fact that they once did.

I am sorry that some people are marring what should be a time of relief and joy for Bowe’s family, his hometown in Idaho, and the country. It’s time for all of us in the United States to pull together and help heal the wounds of war. We owe it to those who have been deployed so long and so many times to celebrate their service to our country and find peace back home.