On Veterans Day, which is next week, we remember those who have served the country in military service. But too often, in our zeal to honor veterans, we impart honor and legitimacy to war. We should learn to honor the service of veterans without promoting the next war.
We tell ourselves veterans served to defend our freedom, security, and “American way of life.” They fought for peace. But this false narrative is not good for veterans and blinds us to the real reasons for our many wars.
As William J. Astore, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force, now retired, wrote, “Our troops are, of course, human and vulnerable and imperfect. We don’t help them when we put them on pedestals, give them flags to hold in the breeze, and salute them as icons of a feel-good brand of patriotism. Talk of warrior-heroes is worse than cheap: It enables our state of permanent war, elevates the Pentagon, ennobles the national security state, and silences dissent.”
The truth is our veterans sacrificed for the failures of the country’s leaders. Our leaders didn't have the competence, understanding, or creativity to find ways to resolve conflicts peacefully. Veterans sacrificed for the aggressive, self-appointed duty to “lead” and police the world.
When we look at the real reasons for war — and count all the costs — the results often are not worth the price.
The war in Afghanistan is a prime example. After 20 years of fighting, nothing was accomplished but death and destruction. Imagine what could have happened if even a small fraction of the trillions of dollars wasted had been used for good. Imagine if we had opened the door to refugees fleeing the Taliban in 2001 instead of 2021. How many people could be happy, productive citizens in a new home instead of spending the last 20 years in a war zone?
We can remember the sacrifice of veterans without glorifying or promoting war. A new veteran's memorial in Brule is showing how this can be done. It is a different memorial that remembers local veterans but also asks visitors to reflect on the wider price of war. Vietnam veteran Paul Helbach, coordinator of the community project, said he didn't want a “militaristic” memorial. Based on 30 years of counseling returning veterans, he believes many veterans struggle to reconcile their military experiences with the stated reasons for war. This can impair healing.
At the center of the memorial is a 12-ton piece of basalt representing the “weight and gravity of war.” Affixed to the rock are a number of metal maple leaves with quotes from local poets, veterans, and national figures. The messages focus on the human costs of war and advocate for a better way to resolve conflicts.
Brule resident John Miller’s poem, “The Price of War,” is on one of the leaves:
“War has a beginning but never an end.
“Separating husbands, wives, families, and friends.
“Suffering with invisible scars, sacrifice of life and limb.
“Opposition dividing our country from within.
“Past lessons should never be ignored.
“Always remember the price of war.”
Philip Anderson of Maple is a member of Veterans for Peace, Chapter 80, in Duluth-Superior. He wrote this for the News Tribune. His views are his alone.
IF YOU GO
What: Dedication of the Price of War Memorial
When: 11 a.m. Thursday, which is Veterans Day
Where: The memorial is one block north of U.S. Highway 2 in downtown Brule
Who: The public is invited; members of the Wisconsin Army National Guard will lay a wreath, and former state Sen. Bob Jauch, a Vietnam veteran, will speak