War veterans are in no short supply in the general population and not among my predecessors and family either. For example, my family members served in wars ranging from the Revolutionary War to Afghanistan. Many served in the Civil War, others in World War I and more in World War II.
In my generation family served in Korea and in the tragedy that was Vietnam. Close relatives and relatives by marriage served in Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan. To my knowledge, no family members of the two previous generations or my own were killed; some were injured and a great uncle died as a result of gassing in World War I.
One uncle served four long years of continuous overseas service in World War II; he was injured and awarded the Purple Heart and other medals. An Army engineer, he went out in advance to help build the paths and bridges, fighting through all the campaigns from northern Africa through Europe.
On a Higgins boat, he was among to first to land on Iowa Beach on D-Day. A full-page photo of him, standing isolated on the beach, helmet in hand and chin on chest, appeared on the back-page spread of Life magazine. The photo illustrated a feeling of desolation, the waves lapping the sand, bodies in the background. That photo told the story, something he never did until late in life.
Service in all major American wars is something Southerners have shared with Yankees, although the High Plains states hadn’t entered the union before the Civil War. In that war, in fact, more Americans lost their lives, were wounded or seriously ill than any conflict before or since.
To those of us who weren’t raised here, it sometimes seems as if the Southerners of today, especially those in the Deep South, dwell too much on that war.
Remember, however, how many – what percent of the population of the time – were killed or maimed or died of diseases in that war. Most of those victims were ordinary folks, farmers or shopkeepers, fathers, husbands and brothers, not professional soldiers nor plantation owners.
The Civil War, I believe, was one of the needless wars, one that cost a fairly young country hundreds of thousands of its men and years of costly repair.
One lasting element was the legacy of President Abraham Lincoln and his sacrifice to save a nation. At Gettysburg, President Lincoln reminded us: “Four score and twenty years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
Unfortunately, in ensuring decades, we as a people have taken our country into needless and tragic wars time and again without the benefit of any such legacy. We as a people – residents of the West, Plains, Midwest, New England, Tidewater, Mid and Deep South – are all responsible for what has happened to the men and women who have served – voluntarily or as draftees. In addition, we are responsible for the death and maiming of countless innocent victims.
All of us should honor and respect our lost ancestors and family from all wars, but now, we need to come together to stop sending our young citizens into battle. We need to stop asking them to kill and maim others, especially innocent victims. We need to stop thinking we can impose a particular form of government and way of life on other peoples.
We should defend ourselves, of course, from actual invasion and in the future, we may again be called upon to join allies in responding to an effort to stop obvious evil, such as the German attempt to kill all the Jews and to conquer the Western world or the Japanese attempt to conquor the Far East.
(We and others, however, have been selective sometimes as to which “obvious evils” we choose to help stop.)
On Veteran’s Day, I read that last year more American veterans have died from taking their own lives than died in battle – 22 a day since 2011. Since 2000, nearly 1 million active military personnel have been diagnosed with mental health problems. (Ann Jones, “They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars – The Untold Story”)
It may well be we have met the ultimate enemy, and it is us (sorry, Pogo).