Published Date Written by Telly HalkiasLast year, under a graying sky and by the stench of an Afghan roadside, one of my best friends was crippled for life. Today, he is home and very much alive.
So on Independence Day, as folks settle in for fireworks, I'll stop for a moment and give thanks for not adding another death in the remembrance of war.
When he returned home and recovered from his wounds, an e-mail from this old Army buddy heralded a soldier's skepticism:
"I feel relief but not joy. Having seen many men, women and children die in the last few years, I am tired of sorrow and death of any kind. You and I know what it means to sit in a dark room in the middle of the night and shed a tear for those who will never return. It takes a little piece of your heart each time one of them dies until you can't feel so much anymore. Coming home gives one time to think; to struggle with self-doubt, to feel the anxiety of reliving decisions you suspect may have been bad ones."
His words reinforced one of the lessons learned from Vietnam: Don't take bad policy out on the troops. It's disgraceful how we treated those vets because of our government's decisions, or that 50,000 had to die there.
We've come a long way in recognizing soldiers are doing their jobs because they took an oath and feel a sense of duty, or for myriad other reasons, from the practical to the romantic. During my years in uniform, I never met anyone, from private to general, who relished going to war, or enjoyed the thought of killing.
Now ensconced in a journalist's life, I must insist every word means something. In this country, it's anyone's freedom to be against the troops, a notion worth preserving even if Americans overwhelmingly detest it.
In fact, any soldier will go to the grave defending our right to hate him. That's the beauty, as well as the paradox and cost, of the freedom we enjoy. Yet when we claim to be disillusioned with the system and not the troops, but our language denigrates the memory of those not coming home, then maybe we can subdue our passion. The choice is ours.
The reason most societies blow trumpets for soldiers is because, like public safety officials, they can die in the line of duty. That can't be said of everyone.
As a veteran, though, I hate war. Human nature suggests conflict in our genetic make-up; it's part of who we are. Yet the anthropologist Margaret Mead argued we don't carry the DNA of war, and man invents all combat, thus rendering it unnecessary.
While I've always respected Mead, on this we part ways. Bumbling governments notwithstanding, if war is always needless, then so is emotion.
In such a world, couples wouldn't argue, teenagers wouldn't rebel, friends wouldn't quarrel, and neighbors wouldn't dispute. That place exists in my dreams, but nowhere else. For those who believe it does, their optimism is admirable; mine doesn't go so far.
In my heart, and in that idyllic realm, I'd have loved some peaceful way to stop the Nazis from continuing the Holocaust. Or diplomacy to keep the Taliban from abusing their women.
Yet, as a Franciscan monk ‚ a pacifist among pacifists — once advised me: As long as evil exists, so will conflict. Sometimes those clashes, while always abhorrent, are necessary.
Thankfully, my friend will never again know the battlefield. So for me, this will be a different Fourth of July. My rage at his hobbling has turned into gratitude for his life. In pursuing someone else's freedom, he stood as tall as any Minuteman once did to secure ours.
Survival fuels the persistence of memory. When the two of us were boys impersonating men, we used to play catch every spring. He'd sprint to track down my throws like a gazelle bounding through tall grass.
All we knew was laughter, sunshine, and the smell of lilacs.