This afternoon, I actually had free time on my hands, alone. Wanting to take full advantage of this rarity, especially now that it is summer and my children are home from school, I drove to the bookstore. I treated myself to a white chocolate mocha and browsed through the book shelves. I picked up a small book that called out to me, titled The Thing You Think You Cannot Do. I opened to a page that talked about the author’s experience in Iraq.
I walked with the book to the café and sat at a table next to the window. I returned to that page, and read something that I thought was quite appropriate to share for the Fourth of July Holiday. Here are excerpts of what the author, Gordon Livingston, M.D., wrote in Chapter 10, Beware of ideas on which we all agree:
“No shared feelings are more firmly embedded in the American culture than the admiration and gratitude that we have toward the young men and women who have served in our most recent wars. Their sacrifices are celebrated at every opportunity, and stories about our “wounded warriors” and their families are a stable of the nightly news. Our great national spectacles – sporting events, holidays – become occasions for patriotic celebration and remembrance, rife with clichés (such as “Freedom isn’t Free”) designed to reassure us that, while we personally have not chosen to sacrifice anything during wartime, we at least appreciate those who have made the choice to do so. They stand in their camouflage uniforms often looking a little mystified at the applause.
The reflexive impulse to treat our troops as heroes serves an important part aside from relieving our guilt at having done nothing ourselves. The war in Iraq, no less than other wars, involved the morally ambiguous process of killing large numbers of people who posed no threat to us. Because the instruments of destruction were our sons and daughters, we find it hard to take responsibility for asking this of them without regret and self-examination. Ignoring our misjudgments and redoubling our admiration for the young people who risked everything on our behalf are far easier….
The “Support our troops” bumper magnets that blossomed as the invasion of Iraq commenced could have just as well read “My country, right or wrong!”
And so we venerate those who put themselves in fear-inducing situations on our behalf and did whatever they could to survive. Most of them are neither heroes nor killers, just patriotic people volunteering to hazard themselves for reasons that to them seemed good at the time. Can we deal with our fears in some way that does not involve the use of bullets or high explosives? Can we celebrate those willing to take risks while creating alternative ways for young people to serve their country that are less costly to them and to others in distant places who love their children in the same way that we love ours?”
I hope that we value our troops enough to listen and reflect upon the questions Mr. Livingston posed before us, and invest the time, wisdom and love necessary to find answers for these powerful questions.