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Veterans Day

This might become a bit of a rant, but I won't apologize.

Last year, I got to spend a little time in Flanders. Near where the trenches were. Where a generation of English and French and German  kids were sacrificed to an ancient folly, War. I asked my Flemmish friend how Belgium survived the wars. He replied that his country was very good at rolling over and playing dead. The enemies just pass through. Have for centuries, he said.

I decided a long time ago that I was a pacifist. Not because I was particularly averse to violence, but because I couldn't find evidence that war ever fixed anything. No evidence that killing individuals changes how a society thinks. My crude understanding concluded that War is what psychologists call an error of logical leveling. Mistaking killing a person for destroying an idea.

There are many ways to kill an idea. During the French Revolution, a captain called to his sergeant, "Tell that rabble to leave this plaza in five minutes or I'll fire on them with grapeshot." The sergeant climbed to the top of a barricade and yelled into the crowd, "My captain says that if the rabble isn't out of this plaza in five minutes, he'll kill them with grapeshot. But from up here, I cannot see the rabble through all of the fine citizens of the republic. Would you fine citizens be so good as to leave the plaza so my captain can shoot the rabble?" Of course, the crowd left without a shot being fired.

After the Prussians captured Paris in the Franco-Prussian war, the conquering general commanded that a bridge, the pride of Paris, be destroyed. A junior officer had the bridge renamed in honor of the general and the bridge was preserved.

Of course history can't tell us how it might have been had our predecessors decided not to wage war but to wage peace. What might have happened had Lincoln decided that the Union, which seems fragmented to this day with red state/blue state controversies, might be better off splitting off into two? Like a natural cell division. Instead of enforcing a contested restatement of the original vows? The vanquished never forget.

WWI was particularly tragic. A recent book reframed the conflict not as the war to end all wars but the peace to end all peace. If we were as skilled in waging peace as we were at waging war, how would our world be different?

 Someone suggested after the 9/11 attacks that we build the most wonderful mosque ever built in Kabul. Spend tens of billions of dollars and wage a peace that would be difficult to interpret as anything but peace. Co-opt the poison ideas rather than go after some people merely holding those ideas. The leverage seems obvious later. But we are a society with a really big hammer, so almost everything resembles a nail.

I always bought a poppy or two or three when Veterans day came around. The poppies represent the poppies which grow in the fields in Flanders. All of the veterans of that conflict are gone now. Not one remains with us. Those who didn't die there eventually merged with those who did, separated by a few years and a lifetime of experience. No one who survived the trenches failed to understand the absurdity. We haven't fought a trench war since.

 And with each war since, we've fought to a point of futility, where the gains seemed to pale compared to the losses. We are engaged in another one now. Spending what, ten billion dollars a week? For what? Another peace to end all peace?

I say God bless the vets, who understand better than I ever will what sacrifice really means. I pray that we will learn that our sacrifices are only evidence of our righteousness if given not for gain, but for the glory of the God within each of us.

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