Thoughts on Veterans Day; Recalling A Marine that Changed My View

While I want to honor and respect other people, no matter what job they do….I can’t live with myself if I’m not honest with my life experience with my self respect and live what I think matters most in living honestly. I have, since I’m a little girl, been told in numerous ways to honor soldiers. It’s so part of our society from the statues and monuments in towns, to the special cemetaries and markers in them, to the special attention in public school American histories that focus on, simply and exclusively, war and politics. We have special national honors and awards, museums and buildings all the way to the pentagon in Washington. We have many, many things that men working for war get without effort already in place. We have all the war movies and books that give us stories and stories of the soldiers and the historical events, and the special economic policies that give soldiers an education to do their work, pay, vacation, and pensions, early retirement at times. We even dress boy children in military garb and give them military toys to play with. We have structured institutions funded by government, land masses dedicated to the work and tied privileges with many interrelated social system networks for the expansion that honors their work. We have absolute acknowledgement of their work every day in many ways, including the special veterans day, independence day, memorial day and even labor day. There are many days and many ways we, as a country, honor veterans. This is no accident because most all the early Presidents of our country were both politicians and soldiers. Imagine that. Honoring one was honoring the other as one. Remember that militaries for men in a high position like a King was what America fought against. War born our country, war sustained our country and war evolves our country – politicians and soldiers were one and the same. But not anymore, that is history. War and politics still have a close relationship.

Without war and economic ability and resources to gain, the Europeans that created America would have stayed in Europe. There would be no America as we have it. Those that fought for America did so for themselves against their home country…. and the new country was the byproduct. So we are at a different time and place when we honor soldiers and this change should be acknowledged in truth.  There is a cycle and pattern to this we live. The honoring of historical soldiers and the honoring of today’s soldiers deserves proper honoring.

Not one of my uncles, relatives, cousins or all men that I knew throughout my life didn’t go without recognition that they were a soldier and which war they survived and served in – in my personal experience. It’s a constant reminder that separates these men from those who didn’t go to war. There were social rules on how to talk to a soldier about his work but it was always with an honor and respect. In fact, for some men, there is slight shame to carry if they didn’t serve in a war, a lessening of their worth, if they instead served our country in another way.

My forefathers were not soldiers, but farmers and they served this country by creating food over two centuries and these farmers have gotten none of the same social systematized treatment that soldiers are entitled by systematic design through government spending and support. While there is a farming industrical complex and has governmental privileges, there are glaring differences I’ve, without effort, noticed living on a farm. There is no special day that marks and honors the work of farmers, no special focus on the American history of farming with politics taught to children in details and specifics of names, and no vacation and time off as part of a system income that supports  an elaborate broader system of social networks in relationship to government, laws and social rules. And farming politics in public schools amounts to an attitude as if knowing about creating food is a less honorable service, not worthy of academic time, and less important to the country and children’s knowledge of the world then fighting a war. This is what we teach our children…. but that is only a side point to what I want to write here today.

Okay, We don’t honor cooks in the same way is obvious. There can be a book written on the manifestations and outcome of this inherited value perpetrated socially without question. It’s the without question and without honesty that I address. It is not to dishonor anyone but to expand honor. But Before I write on, just tuck this thought in your cap, what has and will this country come to when we fight our wars and honor our soldiers when half the country has no food and is starving?

I repeat. This article isn’t about not honoring soldiers, today. The recent political maneuver by politicians with accusations of non-support of soldiers aligned with support for the war has heightened our social demand to honor soldiers and veterans in a specific way at a cost. IMV, it was also a dishonest ploy and accusation for a particular agenda to silence opposition for that agenda. In other words, the honoring of soldiers was used to exploit soldiers. When this happens, it’s time to get honest about the honoring. Many people will be doing honoring in traditional ways today but the honoring of veterans is changing because change isn’t a choice and action of the so called progressives alone. Oh, no…some of the most radical changes in our society are progressing from the action against traditions that conservatives are taking by using traditions to create change for their ideas and agenda. Change is force of life and all is changing. It’s a matter of how that change is occurring and what words are used and who is respected and honored for their actions. The words better align honestly with the actions or we have fiction…. and this is what I address today.

For me, this is about bringing awareness to further expand honor for soldiers in a new way… to honor and lift up everyone and dissolve the imbalance and unethicalness used manipulatively  in the name of the honor of veterans so we can have honor for everyone’s work as it’s appropriate that serves in this country including veterans. It is to get proper perspective on where we are today as we inherit and honor a history and behaviors tied to that history of honoring. It’s about not using historical honor towards veterans to screen and hide the truth about honor that is happening and evolving in our society today.

That includes, in particular, specifics about the job of learned, refined and highly sophisticated forms of organized violence and the honor for the special job of using those skills as a group against particular other people, or groups of people, in particular ways which is also changing from history. It’s about the violence we honor to protect special ‘other’ groups and whose worthy of protection and whose who in relationship to violence today. It’s about violence that includes harm to people in ways that veterans use that never existed in American history. It’s about the job. It’s about where each person fits or does not fit into the conflicted social spaces that mark one person for protection, and sometimes the same person for non-protection by our labels and classification of people that don’t fit the reality of people’s lives. It is about the marks that designate social space that divides us as a country into who deserves protection or who is the recipent of attack of this organized, socially accepted violence from this honored group of people. It’s about using patriotism to America as a frame to debate what changes are right and wrong.  It’s about the conflicts between veterans themselves as they are forced to take sides for conflicts and divide themselves for America or to remain silent.

It’s about when we come into conflict with other people who share this planet home, Earth and whose entitled to use violence and who doesn’t have that privilege based on our beliefs and commitments. Who gets to live, who gets to die and who gets options and choices in this matter needs questioning and attention. This is about thinking new about the conflicts in and about own country in a global family in which violence whether domestic or foreign is a domestic violence tradition in times when violence was absolutely necessary for survival and what that reality means to you today as you want to survive and spared of violence from other groups or other countries. It begs the question which children from which groups deserve to survive and which deserve attack now as is happening as I write this.

You see, the reason I have this view to share and I say all this is because I have my own life experience of service and protecting people in a different way – without violence. As the job and service of what we call mothering  (beyond biological) I served over 40 years in caring and protecting of people too. Part of that job was specifically protecting people from the harm and violence of this world on a daily basis, unnoticed and uncounted, in contrast to the soldier. If I had killed someone – anyone -, I would have failed in my job as mother. In fact, unless and except under extreme conditions, I would have lost my job. My job was similar but opposite of a soldier in very different in very particular ways. While soldiers refine war, I was refining non-violence, addressing domestic harm and increasing love. I happened to notice my job in relationship to a soldier at one point because it was my job. My job was not to kill people but to love them, not in some fantasy about love, but in everyday actions in effort to do no harm. This stark reality of love and killing humans hit me hard when it came to consciousness after years of experience. I even feel there is a daring on my part to speak as I do here as it breaks taboos about what we can talk about.

I could write a book about mothering and violence that has never been written, stories never honored or told from a group stereotyped as loving or only evil when violent and not mighty fighters in reality, but that’s not what this article is about either. I didn’t always think this way about mothers. No, just like soldiers, I was taught certain ways and social markers on how to think and behave toward mothers. But that changed with lots of experience and having several harsh realities bring into conflict, in fact, bring on a collision, when what I had been taught and what I was living wasn’t congruent anymore. I either had to get honest or create fiction about my life that seemed quite common for mothers. I didn’t even know that some of what I thought I knew about mothers was fiction. I thought it was truth. And in this way, I also begun to understand the fiction of soldiers. For me, there was no choice. I had to stick to honesty and speak it. Ironically, it was a few Marines that I met along the way that changed how I was taught to view the difference between mothers and daughters who protect and fathers and sons who protected both our families and our countries. Of course, now daughters can protect in the same way sons do, but rarer is that sons protect in the same way daughters do.  It was a simple but lifelong learning that brought me to the words I share today.

One simple incident that changed my life was the day I had a broken down car on the Pa Turnpike, and a AAA guy, doing his job, with his tow truck had to tow me a considerable distance. I hopped into the truck with this stranger quite caught offguard and as to what conversation would emerge. It didn’t take him long at all, to tell me (In fact I knew nothing else about him) that He had been a Marine in the Gulf War….and without warning, he then went on to tell me how he had offed 38 ‘towelheads’. The word he used for killing I can not remember as I write this. It wasn’t ‘offed’ but it was so foreign to me, I had to ask him to clarify the meaning of the word to make sure what he was telling me was what I was hearing. He proudly announced he killed 38 people. I was uncomfortable with this announcement for several reasons. One reason was I hadn’t grown up with soldiers who did this. In fact, much of the real war experience and the killings were often kept quiet in a soldier’s heart or played out on television in violence known to be ‘make-believe’ or in stories that seemed remote from my reality and hitting home. But the world changed and is changing and I heard this announcement of killing in way I couldn’t help myself. It stung me.

I, too, had violent experiences that were once kept hidden in my heart as an American citizen, but particularly as a child and as a woman that grew up in a world where being violent, even self defense or being a soldier wasn’t a choice for me without severe social punishment. My mothers had no ability to create a military to defend themselves as fathers had. To top it off, I had come to learn that there was the violence that counted as harm and other violence that was made invisible and not counted as harmful. I had come to learn that violence against my foremothers both intimately in my private family and socially in public histories, through the learning of women’s history and what I had inherited. The history of soldiers, the history of mothers, the history of America and violence was incomplete and skewed every single veteran’s day I had lived. In fact, to further confuse and change what I was taught and speak about violence truthfully I had to wrestle with much contradiction about violence and unlearn and change what had been a narrow, limited perspective to an expanded and embracing larger view that transformed….and with that, the very particular ways I was taught to both honor violence and despise violence changed. It all  depending and when, who was involved and how it happened. Violence itself was loved and hated. Sitting in that truck with that Marine telling me he killed people with honor changed me.

There was also a Marine that raped me once and while this event heightened and made me question more the ethical conduct of Marines, the truth is that it was just one assaultive event among many others that I always held as a secret fear of violence, totally unquestioned and unspoken for the first half of my life. In fact, so secret, at times I had fears that seemed to come from nowhere as nowhere was the only way to safely classify and address them. Assaultive attacks feel pretty much the same whether the attacker is a Marine or a car mechanic. Yet It was common, unspoken knowledge that certain men could commit assaultive attacks against particular people and get away with it without punishment. Ironically and yet commonly known, certain assaultive attacks actually come with reward.  When they do, any comment openly made about such particular violence always is met with a chorus of social outcries for honor for support-justification of the attack and outbursts of love and honor towards these men who carry both the power of honor in their jobs and the power to commit violence because of that honored occupation. This was the part of the history of veterans. And it is and was this honor used to keep these men from a despised stereotype which we condemn on other, special particular men with, and sometimes, without honored occupations who commit violence that we ultimately call criminals. Who is a criminal in one place and time is not considered criminal in another place and time.  The gray areas and our contradictions arise in stereotypes we carry for criminals and the contrasting stereotypes we have for respected, honored men based on occupations. This is a volatile topic hardly touched as we debate incidents as recent as the Joe Paterno event. Truth is we can’t speak of violence honestly until we confront our inherited hierarchal system of privilege of violence and protection tied to powerful and honored occupations and aligned institutions but that is not why I am writing this article.

While I was taught that these certain men were doing a job to protect me and teach me properly, I had long learned that it was a secret of my mothers to keep both the truth and fear of ‘our’ violence by acting as if it didn’t happen. We were forced to live in dishonesty in ways political prisoners don’t do, that we were told was being an honest woman….and as a child we simply didn’t know it. And children were taught to be seen and not heard – another way to say – keep your mouth shut, child. We were told that our honored fathers in all social capacities, especially those soldiers, were protecting us as children, as women and citizens. We were told as children not to protect ourselves as our violence was heavily judged but have our parents protect us and to get husbands to protect us as women from ‘other’ dangerous men in America, including protecting us from unethical soldiers. It was never the American military’s job or LEO’s to protect us from men in THIS country of America.

What became a sort of crisis happened around my divorce, when, like a 2 x 4, I was confronted with the question I wanted to ask, in tears, to my mothers …..who was to protect me from the men who were suppose to be protecting me? What if the men that have the job of protecting you from violence are the same ones that commit violence against you? What if the men that have the job of teaching you what is socially and culturally proper are the ones exploiting that teaching for their own purposes of power over you? But to continue this story of My violence, also, is only a side point of what I am writing today. My story of violence isn’t important here. I am writing this with a larger purpose. I am writing about the stories that transmit our cultural shared beliefs of violence, but most important I am writing for the stories that children are getting about violence in a myriad of contradictions and the ways our world continues to be a place where children, women and citizens of our society need to be protected and educated properly. I am writing to make the stories of violence both real and unreal. To clarify the difference in what violence is real and worthy of counting as harm. And to address reality of what violence is honored or dishonored in a way to make it seem unreal. I am writing because as a mother and grandmother I have the privilege in my lifetime to both write and speak about violence that my foremothers were denied and those that did manage to transcend that denial are still buried in a denied history. I am writing for the children because my mother didn’t have that privilege to write the truth about her violence for her children. I am writing so that leaders of our country who solve conflicts and differences, even religious differences, think about our traditions of violence, the suspectability to repeat harmful mistakes and how they protect and who they protect. I write because it is my job as a mother and now grandmother to do the job of serving my country and family to create a peaceful, loving, free of harm, and honorable life for children to not only survive but thrive….and I write so those that we reccognize that honor itself is what protects us from violence and that those with jobs  that protect us continue to do a real job of protection with ethics about the job. But more than all that, I ask us today as we honor veterans for their work, that we recognize that veterans can incorporate non-violent techniques to resolve conflicts. I ask that we all learn about to recognize the abuse of one’s power. I ask, on this veterans day, a beginning for a future of non-violence in the world. I ask, like John Lennon, to imagine what seems inconceivable. I ask for everyone honoring veterans today to rethink a future where the service of veterans is obsolete because if we don’t have that vision, the horrid history may repeat itself. That is, the history, of what brought all refugees to create the America we have now because it will put our children in a position in which they will seek a new America just as was done 300 years ago. It’s a matter of making conscious choices about violence. I ask for a new consciousness about violence as we honor those who specialize in it.


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