Opinion: War – what is it good for?

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From time to time, the Café publishes Letters to the Editor from our readers.  Before submitting an editorial, please check out our Submissions page for guidelines.

 

by Susan Letendre

 

I just called a small office where I knew the people well, or so I thought. I asked Sarah, the administrative assistant, how her holidays had been, and she answered, “They were a bit sad. My husband is deployed.” I didn’t catch the word “deployed” and thought she was saying his name, “Dick Boyd?” and that I should know the story by hearing the name. I said, “I’m sorry, Sarah, I didn’t catch that.” She repeated, “My husband is deployed, in Afghanistan.” In a flash, I realized that this was the only person I knew who was off fighting a war, and I only knew him secondhand. After a moment, I asked for his first name, it’s Rob, and said I would keep him in my prayers. She was inordinately grateful, and I wished I could say something else. Perhaps, “Thank you for your and Rob’s service,” or “I’m grateful to you and Rob for keeping us free.”

 

I wished fervently that I could believe he is off fighting for freedom, for justice, to create peace. But I do believe, as Bob Dylan phrased it, that he is “a pawn in their game.” As most of us do, I watch the powers that be right now, the oligarchy, and how they twist reality to suit their gain.

 

This is nothing new. War has always been glamorized as a means of selling it to the populace, and to those who join up. It is no accident that such high percentages of the fighting men and women are minority, ranging from nearly 0% in the top ranks of officers to well over 43% in the bottom two ranks of the enlisted.

 

They are also overwhelmingly from lower economic groups, and the military keeps them that way. Just look at college graduation figures of those going into the military: over 82% for officers, under 6% for enlisted. These men and women are sent into mortal danger to guarantee our supply of oil, to make profits for the huge and growing monster that is our security industry, and to insure that legislators get re-elected. Even if they are not killed or maimed, they live in fear because of a lie, leave their loved ones in fear for them and themselves because of a lie, come home damaged emotionally from having been taught to kill their fellow humans, and from living in mortal terror, because of a lie, and then have to live this lie so as to justify what they have seen and done and been.

 

In the meantime, I talk and write against war and militarization. I work for peace and understanding. Yet, I live a lie, as well, because I live isolated from it, as if the world were a loving and safe place. While right around the corner, just down the street, in the next small office, is Sarah, missing Rob.

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Susan Letendre is a writer and educator, a peace and social justice activist, and a storyteller who recounts only true stories. She lives in Rhode Island.

 

image: On May 27, 2007—Memorial Day—Mary McHugh mourns her dead fiancé, Sgt. James Regan, in Arlington National Cemetery’s Section 60. Regan had been killed by an IED explosion in February in Iraq. PHOTOGRAPH BY JOHN MOORE, GETTY

 

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Jon White
Guest
Jon White

From Susan Letendre, the original author of the post;

First, I apologize for any hurt my article has caused.

I do know and have worked with many vets, including years side-by-side with members of Veterans for Peace, and with others who felt their service was in the best interests of humanity. With all, I have experienced respectful and caring conversation. The pain I have witnessed, the grief I have shared, whether physical, mental or spiritual, hardly exists only in my imagination. I wish it did.

My conclusions emerge out of my conversations with these courageous men and women.

How is it “othering” to call out dangerous myths? True, I do not know any who are serving now. If this current war against the enemies created, and still being created, by our war in the Middle East is different, please tell me why.

How do we expose “the man behind the curtain” without seeming to implicate those who have been most hurt, the very people whose visions we need if we are to build together a better world?

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Stan G. Duncan
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Stan G. Duncan

Some criticisms of Letendre’s article made sense, but much of it seemed to intentionally misrepresent her words. In some places they were so bitter and angry that it felt like the writers were using words simply to hurt and humiliate, rather than describe what she said.

For example, she was described as believing "all who serve are gullible idiots"? I can't see that. Her ire was on the perpetrators of wars, who lie about them and then send our finest to be killed and maimed in them. Millions of Americans, including many in the military, would agree with that point.

In other examples they said she "infantilizes us," she has "'othered' us," and that "we exist primarily in [her] imagination." I can find just a slim, bare, hint of anything in the paragraph being attacked that comes close to these accusations (perhaps in the sentence saying we have been lied to). Even if they believed the things they said about her, the harsh, bitter, dismissive attacks on her were not helpful.

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The Rev. W. David Dobbins
Guest
The Rev. W. David Dobbins

I agree that the true purposes and costs of our war industry are often hidden. Dad said little about being in Sudbury England as a young B-17 pilot during WWII. Fifty years later we went to Sudbury and stood where his plane had been tied down. We spoke to a local who had been fascinated by the Americans and chronicled their experiences. I learned there that Dad had behaved heroically--diving into a burning plane to kill the engines before it exploded--and had suffered the trauma of a mid-air collision during a training mission where the other plane and its crew had been lost. And Dad's deepest sorrow: he dropped "dirty bombs" (napalm) in 1945 on French villages where he knew innocent men, women and children lived. This hidden history had effectively changed my Dad forever-- the eager young pilot became the man I knew: courageous in his devotion to our family, but tortured by a costly burden of trauma and unresolved grief that he carried to his grave.

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Ann Fontaine
Member

Susan: Thanks for risking stating your thoughts and feelings here. You raise many good points about race, education, class, etc. and the military. When I worked at the VA nursing home with all the vets of many wars - I ended up feeling the uselessness of war and was glad when I have worked against it though I appreciated those who had served (this was after the VietNam war) There are many reasons people join the military, of course. Many told me that it offered a future where they saw none. I wish we could offer that as a country instead of sending people off to be damaged forever. My opinion on war was shaped early on by the film "The Americanization of Emily." But nothing I have seen has really changed that for me.

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Jon White
Admin

I agree that our imperative is to work for peace and understanding and against war and militarization. The fetishization of our military is dangerous for our nation and it is something our founders were concerned about and sought to counter.

However, as a veteran, the tone of your piece suggests that all who serve are gullible idiots. You seem to not allow for the real and complex reasons people enter the military. It also infantilizes us and does not recognize that we possess our own agency.

That you don’t personally know anyone who is serving in the military is of concern. You have “othered” us and filled in your own lack of knowledge from your imagination. You are not alone in this, unfortunately. The gap between the military and the population it serves is wide and growing wider and is unhealthy.

I don’t think, ultimately, that your advocacy, ostensibly on my behalf and for others like me, will be effective so long as we exist primarily in your imagination.

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