A smile, a salute

by Beacon Staff • November 7, 2007

It was a revealing remark, but not at all surprising. Many here at Emerson College are from the upper-middle class-hardly a choice feeding ground for military recruiters.,Recently, a close friend told me that he doesn't know a single person fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan.

It was a revealing remark, but not at all surprising. Many here at Emerson College are from the upper-middle class-hardly a choice feeding ground for military recruiters.

The chasm between the home front and the front line is a monumental pity that disadvantages everyone involved with the suspiciously described "war effort." Real energy must be focused on closing this divide.

HYENA, an Emerson comedy magazine, made the following crack in a recent publication: "You know you grew up in the 2000s if...strangely, war has never impacted your day-to-day life." This stinging quip is shamefully and embarrassingly true.

It is difficult to deny that a large number of Americans-Emersonians included-are deeply alienated from overseas fighting. Many who resist it through protest and activism are often guilty of apathy because their understanding of the war is dangerously limited in scope.

They understand Iraq and Afghanistan as political and diplomatic events, rather than profound human crises. They deploy intellect over and above the heart.

Even for those with friends and family in uniform, it is easy to strip the situation of its emotional gravity. The war has become a stale, monolithic entity. At best, it compels the creation of angry signs or donations to soldiers' charities; at worst, it gets buried beneath the routine stresses of school and work.

Whether or not one supports the occupations, it is critical not to simply acknowledge, but rather truly honor our servicepeople by paying witness to their struggle and suffering. Their self-sacrifice must be viewed outside of-and apart from-mere political deliberation.

For our troops, this war is not about weapons of mass destruction or incurred deficits, nor is it about Bush or the Democratic Party.

For soldiers, a different set of issues haunts the present and clouds the future. In Iraq and Afghanistan, they have waged a battle that is both moral and spiritual.

With the weight of Western modernity charged upon them, their actions have taken on special meaning. What they do there betrays fundamental and deeply buried truths about our personal ethics and collective conscience.

Even those lucky enough to avoid physical harm have been touched in less obvious ways.

Philosopher George Santayana rightly declared that only the fallen see war's end. There is no such thing as a veteran; the battle ends only at the deathbed.

Every soldier is a brother or sister of every American, if not by blood, then by virtue of national fraternity. And do we not tend to family in times of trouble? Do we not give extraordinary notice to their struggles through compassion, attention and active aid?

We failed our servicepeople in the past. During the Vietnam War, soldiers were scapegoats, villains and embarrassments. Upon their return they were greeted with unacceptable insincerity.

This sort of treatment remains a seldom-spoken disgrace. Today, veterans make up 40 percent of all homeless men. This is despite the fact that veterans comprise only 34 percent of American males, according to an August study by the National Coalition for the Homeless.

We cannot retract the past, but we can ensure mistakes are not committed twice. Americans should endeavor, then, to keep our troops in mind. They should strive to aid them and their families. And when the troops come back, Americans must display gratitude and understanding. Broad assistance now and then is paramount.

With Veterans Day quickly approaching, Americans should involve themselves in the war effort-with a new emphasis on effort.

There are charities to be patronized, care programs to be staffed and comfort packages to be sent to weary soldiers.

When debating Iraq or Afghanistan, citizens should think of the wars as more than conflagrations of arms and policy. They are the sum of innumerable burdens shouldered by ordinary Americans who have chosen duty over personal advancement.

This should not be a matter wrapped-up in politics. Simple humanity and everyday patriotism demand the embrace and support of countrymen who have given their all and lost so much in the process.

They deserve a smile. They deserve a salute.