I think there is nothing that a non-veteran can say to a veteran that doesn’t sound a little trite. Even a simple thank you sounds automatic and plastic to my ears. I just don’t know what to say to someone who has experienced things I can’t even imagine, on my behalf.
Sometimes, when I hear a vet’s story about their time in the service, I put myself in their place and wonder how I would fare in the same circumstances.
Bob was a bartender I worked with 32 years ago who was the only survivor in his squad after an ambush. How would I feel if I was the only survivor in my squad? Bob came home paranoid and angry. Who wouldn’t? Unfortunately, it was difficult for him to blend socially. He spent a lot of time on his own getting high. I didn’t work with him all that long-maybe three months-but he left an impression. I still think of him often. I think of getting ambushed. Bob gave me some advice: Don’t stay still. Charge the aggressor. It might be your only chance. I’ve never had to use his advice, I wonder if I could?
Mike is a fellow blogger who shares my loathing of spiders. How would I cope if I were laying in bed and a giant spider dropped from above? I know Mike endured a lot more than rogue spider encounters but whenever I think of veterans, I will always think of Mike vs the spiders. He brought the experience home for me via my very own phobia.
How would I feel being one of the first American soldiers to enter a German death camp, like my former neighbor? How would I feel if my ship got bombed and the only place to go was overboard with the sharks like my father-in-law? How would I feel being away from my family for months or even years? How would I feel if I made it home alive only to be treated like a social pariah? What if the government that drafted me forgot about me? What if I lost a leg or an arm or my sight? What if I lost all those things? How would I hold up under torture? How long would I last as a prisoner of war? How would it feel to die never having held my own child?
Whenever I picture myself in military shoes, I channel Goldie Hawn in the movie, “Private Benjamin”. “I want to go out to lunch. I want to wear sandals. I just want to be normal again.”
I don’t believe I could do the things that veterans have done. I’m thankful I haven’t had to face those tests. I’m thankful that someone was brave enough to endure them on my behalf and equally embarrassed by my own cowardice. I’m sad because no one should have to experience such things. I know life is not easy. I know that people suffer every day in myriad circumstances. It just seems to me that war is one of the more avoidable circumstances. It’s been around a long time so maybe I’m wrong. Am I? Is war an inescapable feature of the human condition or is it an avoidable by-product of the human condition? What do you think?
This essay by Margaret Mead, argues that war is a bad invention that could eventually be replaced by a better invention if only society could come up with one. It’s an interesting idea. Why aren’t the Einsteins, Buffets and Gates of this world focused on this problem? It would be great if one day the word “veteran” applied only to historical figures because war had become an outdated, abandoned method of dealing with strife. It would be a more fitting, less trite tribute to all those who have served.