Honoring Those Who Serve

War, as one American Civil War general very aptly put it, is hell.  The men and women who fight wars, regardless of the uniform they wear, or the cause for which they’re sent to fight, put normal lives on hold, and put their lives on the line; enduring long periods of routine and boredom, interrupted occasionally by brief periods of sheer terror.

Those who have served in combat will know exactly what I’m talking about.  Anyone who claims to like war, or who say they have gone into battle without fear, is either psychotic, or just outright lying.  No sane person can face the possibility of violent death without a certain degree of fear.

I draw the reader’s attention to the phrase ‘. . . for which they’re SENT to fight. . .’ because this is important.  Soldiers fight wars, but seldom is it a soldier who started the war in the first place.  The decision to go to war is usually made by politicians who rarely have to face the physical consequences of battle up close.  No, it is the young men and women, often barely into adulthood who must endure the blood, sweat and tears.

Sadly, in most countries, after the guns are silent, like the teenager who puts the toys of childhood in a dark corner of the closet, no longer interested in them; politicians consign those who have fought to the deeper recesses of their minds, no longer concerned with their welfare.  Like the toys we outgrow when we get older, soldiers are thought of as no longer needed.  The wounded veterans are often treated as nuisances; objects of embarrassment.

In some ways, this is a worse tragedy than war itself.  When war is over, the danger is past.  But, for those who fought, the images are forever in their mind.  Having faced death, or taken the lives of a fellow human, a veteran needs some assurance that it was a cause worth the cost.  Being forgotten and neglected inflicts wounds that cannot be seen, but that hurt nonetheless.

The honorable thing to do is to honor those who sacrificed, regardless of the side for which they fought.  The soldier should not be blamed for the war.  When I was assigned in 1998 to be the first American Consul General in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, I came face to face with people who just 30 years earlier I was locked in a deadly struggle with.  I was prepared to put the war behind me, but worried that I would encounter hostility from those who had been my sworn enemies.  You can imagine my surprise when I learned that they felt the same.  We had parted in 1973 as enemies, but we met again in 1998 as people who had served our cause to the best of our ability and could now be friends.  One of the people who eventually became a close friend and golfing companion was commander of a unit that I’d tried in vain in 1968 to destroy.  We found that 30 years after the fact, we could exult in having survived and enjoy each others companionship.

Honor those who served.  Let them know that their sacrifice and struggle was not in vain.