Here he is: My own personal favorite veteran…George Tant Smith, Senior, my handsome dad. WWII command pilot; Korean War command pilot; loaned out to Australia by USAF as command pilot for a war in Burma; loaned out to the French by USAF as command pilot for the French-IndoChina War. Then he flew as a civilian for The Flying Tigers during the US-Vietnam War.
He always said that war should be the last thing anyone does–A measure of last resort. As children, my brother and I lived many months, even years, without seeing our dad. Why? Because he was deployed somewhere in the world. He missed all of our school concerts, Open Houses, parent conferences. We spent many holidays and birthdays with him gone. He never got to pretend to be the Tooth Fairy, tucking a dime or a quarter under our pillows.We never really had a family vacation or camping trip. Moving from place to place was our family travel time. Our mother, a staunch military wife, spent many of her days lonely and worried, or packing. She stood by other women, when that dreadful knock came to the door. She prayed every day that our dad would be safe. This is the sacrifice that military families have made throughout history, one day and one family at a time.
But, I want us to live and work in a world where war is not an option, a world that goes Beyond War! Right now governments and industries put people like my dad on the front-lines because they think they’ve exhausted their abilities to find solutions. But too often we don’t see any real effort of diplomacy. Governments sacrifice the lives of our family members for their quick and violent solutions. But what is the real purpose of rushing into combat? Is it really just a means to build economic growth, innovation, and gain world influence?
After every war we send young men, and now women, home broken or dead. We wave flags and call them heroes. Yes, they are heroic because they stood strong in times of battle. Many make the ultimate sacrifice, but for what? How many of our wars have really served any lasting purpose, or helped people to arrive at a final consensus of peaceful resolution? Yet, those people who speak out for peace are vilified and ridiculed as not being patriotic. Quite honestly when we talk about peace, we are expressing sincere patriotism! After having lived a life without my dad (just like many of you), I think the most patriotic and common sense thing that I can do is to speak out for peaceful solutions to conflicts!
WWII stopped the Rise of the 3rd Reich and Hitler’s unbelievable annihilation of whole cultures: That war was justified, wasn’t it? Between 1937 and 1945 an entire continent (for that matter two continents) was torn apart and had to be rebuilt. Refugees were cast adrift all over Europe. Yet, now after that immense sacrifice, what kind of talk do we hear right here in the United States? The KKK is hosting a parade to celebrate “their victory” because “their guy won” the 2016 presidential election? Yes, the First Amendment protects your Free Speech and the Right to Assemble. But don’t get mad if I organize a counter protest on the other side of the street! Really, pardon my abbreviations, but WTF?
This Veterans’ Day Weekend Americans are grappling with huge chasms of misunderstanding. Many of us are doing our best to find unity for the sake of our country. How can we learn to really listen to each other? That is the only way that I know how to understand the reasoning, the pain, the anger that has created such fear among too many people.
During this election, I was appalled by how many Americans expressed their resentments and fears about changing demographics across our country. Why not recognize and acknowledge the riches of diversification and inclusion? Why would so many be afraid of immigration and difference?
In the same breath many Americans support war while denigrating immigrants. Face it: One begets the other. Yes, war causes waves of immigration–more than any other factor!! During WWII our government established numerous programs to bring immigrant workers to the United States since so many members of our work force were serving the military abroad. Then and now we supply arms to soldiers all over the world. During and after those wars countless families lose their homes and their livelihoods. They must start over. We propelled the destruction of their homelands? Don’t we have a moral obligation to help them rebuild their lives? And the guest workers, who have lived here for a decade or more, do we just ship them back to their country of origin after they have lost their connections, their land, and their means of support at home?
What if the tables were turned? What if we lived in a country that had known combat on our soils? What would we need from our neighboring countries, our allies? We Americans act like a bunch of very spoiled children, who have been given much but don’t really understand the sacrifices that have been made.
Unless we, our parents or grandparents are from somewhere else, or unless our families’ heritages firmly plant below the Mason-Dixon Line, where the only “foreign” war was ever fought on US soil, then we really don’t know what it’s like to live in a place that is war-torn. Or unless your family is connected to the Nations of America’s First People, whose lives were torn apart by aggressive military action on their homelands, then we just don’t know what is at stake.
In today’s world we talk about the threat of terrorism. It looms over us. But I dare to say that it is senseless wars and overt military aggression that is a major source of terrorism in our modern world. When individuals feel abandoned by their governments, feel powerless, ignored, threatened, disenfranchised, they will act out. If enough of them feel this way, they will organize to act out. They will band together for like-minded causes, no matter how senseless or violent their actions may be. They will cling to ideologies that give them purpose and fuel for their anger and fear. And they will act outside of the law. Terrorism, defined: 1. The use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes. 2. The state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terrorization. 3. A terroristic method of governing or of resisting a government.
Very few of us know about war. We have never seen our hometowns, the places of all our memories, blown up. We have never seen our families killed and then buried in mass graves. We have never struggled to find a morsel of bread to keep our bodies going so that we just might survive. We have never had to pick up what fragments of our lives we could find and then start walking away, trying to find a place to start over, to begin again. But ask someone whose family has witnessed such atrocities. Listen to their stories.
I have often wondered what my dad would have done with his life had he lived in lasting peace? He could have been a great teacher or author. He might have been a college professor. He still might have been an airline pilot because that was his talent. But his missions may have been more peaceful. We might have seen more of him. That would have been a good thing.
During the Vietnam War, an iconic meme crossed through all of our minds: “War is not healthy for women and children and other living things.” These words still ring with truth. War is not healthy for any living thing. War can destroy our beautiful planet Earth. On this Veteran’s Day, 2016, I’ll say it again: I want to live and work in a world where war is not an option.