By Anh Le
Veterans Day is a time to reflect on the tragedy of war.
We remember how certain wars, started and waged by our own government and elected officials, have been borne by ordinary young American men and women, rather than by those who commenced those wars.
When President George W. Bush ordered the invasion against Iraq in 2003, he claimed that Iraq possessed “weapons of mass destruction.” He even ordered Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell to the United Nations to give a speech repeating that claim.
Yet there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Even though President Barack Obama has reduced the number of American troops in Iraq, U.S. troops still remain there. Iraq’s people still suffer from the destruction of its land and infrastructure that occurred during the war; and the war and fighting and killing continue.
After the invasion of Iraq began, a friend of mine, Paul, an army veteran who had been captured by the Nazis in France during World War II and was a prisoner of war, said to me, “Damn it, this war that Bush is starting against the Iraqis, do you see his kids being sent over there? Do you see any kids of senators and congressmen being sent over there? Do you see the kids from privileged and rich families over there? No, it’s always somebody else’s kid!”
What my friend Paul said is as relevant today as it was then – not only for the U.S. War in Iraq, but also for our country’s War in Afghanistan and War in Vietnam, which ended in 1975.
On Veterans Day, I met a Filipino American bus driver who was wearing an Army Infantryman beret that his son wore. His son was in the Army for two years, when he was killed in Afghanistan at the age of 19 in 2011.
The Pentagon told him how his son died. However, individuals who are familiar with the circumstances of his death shared with him a much different version than the one provided by the Pentagon.
This father and his family grieve deeply for their son each day.
In commemorating Veterans Day and honoring those who have served in the military, I also see what others see throughout our communities every day: Veterans whose lives have been damaged by their war experiences, many of whom are now homeless, disabled, and begging for help on our street corners.
During the Vietnam War, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered a sermon, “A Time To Break The Silence,” at Riverside Church in New York City, on April 4, 1967, calling for an end to the war.
“We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must say of war, ‘This way of settling differences is not just,’“ he said.
Dr. King condemned the American military’s use of herbicides and napalm against the Vietnamese people and declared he could no longer remain silent when he thought of all the Vietnamese children, women, and men killed by our nation’s war effort.
He stated that a nation “sending men home from bloody battlefields, physically damaged and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love.”
“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death,” he said.
Let us remember Dr. King’s sermon. Let us reclaim our belief in the sanctity of human life. Let us turn swords into plowshares.
Let us work for peace in our world.