My mixed feelings about military service surface every Veteran’s Day. Of course I appreciate the sacrifice of those who served our country and made possible the life I enjoy living today. There is simply no way to even acknowledge the level of debt we owe to our veterans. I hold the highest possible level of respect for the veterans I know personally – everyone from my father who served during peace time after the war, his older brother (my uncle) Frank who worked as a counter-intelligence officer in the chaos of Nazi Germany, to “Bob” who wanders our town streets never recovered from a shell shock brain injury in Viet Nam that marks him as an easy target for kids’ cruel teasing. They deserve every form of help, support, recognition and gratitude that we can devise. Yet I feel strong alarm for the truth about military violence expressed Buffy Saint Marie and popularized by Donovan in “Universal Soldier” about individual responsibility for war. A conscientious child of the sixties was, above all, devout about individual responsibility. These ideals caused me to conclude, at age 12, that if drafted I would not serve in the military and resolved to leave the country if necessary to hold true to this belief. This never happened, since President Nixon repealed the draft in 1973 when I was 13. Since then, the best I have ever been able to do with this issue is to pray that I don’t have to address the question again, either for myself, my children or anyone else in my lifetime.
He’s five foot-two, and he’s six feet-four,
He fights with missiles and with spears.
He’s all of thirty-one, and he’s only seventeen,
Been a soldier for a thousand years.
He’a a Catholic, a Hindu, an Atheist, a Jain,
A Buddhist and a Baptist and a Jew.
And he knows he shouldn’t kill,
And he knows he always will,
Kill you for me my friend and me for you.
And he’s fighting for Canada,
He’s fighting for France,
He’s fighting for the USA,
And he’s fighting for the Russians,
And he’s fighting for Japan,
And he thinks we’ll put an end to war this way.
And he’s fighting for Democracy,
He’s fighting for the Reds,
He says it’s for the peace of all.
He’s the one who must decide,
Who’s to live and who’s to die,
And he never sees the writing on the wall.
But without him,
How would Hitler have condemned him at Dachau?
Without him Caesar would have stood alone,
He’s the one who gives his body
As a weapon of the war,
And without him all this killing can’t go on.
He’s the Universal Soldier and he really is to blame,
His orders come from far away no more,
They come from here and there and you and me,
And brothers can’t you see,
This is not the way we put the end to war.
My wish is that each of us takes time to consider these ideas today while at the same time honoring each the veterans in our lives.