Today I received the following comment posted to our YouTube page:
“why are we thanking them again??? for killing innocent people, raping women and killing kids? maybe "fuck you" would be a better thing to say.. and we all know the sign...”
This came at an interesting time for me because I am currently engaged in an ongoing e-mail conversation with a woman who also posted a comment to our YouTube page. Hers was in response to a Viet Nam Veteran who had posted several comments about how significantly differently we Americans are treating those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan in comparison to how we treated our Veterans returning from Viet Nam forty years ago. He shared just how difficult his life had been as result of being mistreated and misunderstood upon his return, having been spit upon and called “baby killer”, and how that experience had defined his life since. This woman posted the following response to him:
“…we (the war protestors of the Vietnam era) screwed up badly by blaming the Soldiers for the atrocious politics which produced that war. What happened to [a Viet Nam Veteran] was horrible and unwarranted and repeated many times. I've felt badly about blaming the troops, not their handlers, for 40 years. I apologize, for what little it's worth now.“
Two years, 8,000 e-mails, and 1,100 YouTube comments after starting thegratitudecampaign, this is the first person that I have observed taking ownership of the mistakes (albeit well-intentioned) of the protestors of the Viet Nam era and apologizing for them. This takes a big person to do – it is much easier to hang your head low, keep quiet, and pretend that you had nothing to do with it. Nobody would know. I am incredibly grateful to this woman for not doing that. She is not only setting a wonderful example for us all in recognizing our mistakes, owning them, and learning from them, but she is also helping to enlighten a new generation of protestors not to make the same mistakes again. Unfortunately for some, this recognition and admission comes too late, as is exemplified by this gentleman above.
One of the most striking aspects of war protest in my observation has been that the protestors, who presumably believe in Peace, and Love, and Compassion, often become so passionate about their cause and so incensed by the struggle that they become the very thing they are fighting to overcome. Such is the case with the gentleman above. He is so passionate about his perceived wrongs done by our Troops that his response is, “Fuck you.” Them’s fightin’ words where I come from. And the Peace movement hippies of the late sixties and early seventies – many of them would turn on a dime from chanting “Make Love Not War” to spitting on some poor Soldier returning from what was an already horrific war and calling him a “baby killer”. For many of our Troops this took their already severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and multiplied it to an insurmountable life obstacle. Is that Love? Is that Compassion? Is that how we foster Peace with our fellow man?
Now, I want to be crystal clear on this point: I am not making a case here for or against war protest. I will simply say two things with regard to that: 1) That I am not a huge fan of war as a rule – I don’t think that many of us are. I think we’re better than that. And I think that we owe it to those who serve to do what we can to promote Peace, and not send them off to fight the battles that we refuse to take responsibility for ourselves. And 2) I believe that we are most successful and productive when we fight for something rather than against something. Fighting against something tends to just produce more of that thing. (How is the War on Poverty going? Or the War on Drugs?)
The compelling issue to me on this topic is not whether we support the war or protest the war, but HOW we support or protest it. Are we being honest and respectful with one another? Are we mindful of the power of our words, and using them with integrity? Are we being understanding of one another’s points of view and trying to address each other’s concerns? Or are we ignoring one another while we wait for our turn to speak and then lacing our comments with dramatic, insulting, and offensive jabs to try to break down our opponents and prove them entirely “wrong”, as if we are the sole purveyors of “right”? And when we do that, are we sacrificing even our own morals and values, applying stereotypes across the board in a vain effort to simplify our argument for our opponent, or even for ourselves?
I may be verging on rambling here, so I’ll bring this back around:
“Why are we thanking [those who serve]?” Because they defend our right to disagree. Hopefully we have the good sense to do it peacefully, respectfully, and honestly. “For killing innocent people, raping women and killing kids?” No. That’s not to say that that doesn’t happen in war. But if and when it does, it is the exception – not the rule. We have over 2.6 million people serving for us in some capacity, and over 20 million living Veterans, the vast majority of which have never served in a combat zone or fired a weapon in anger. As for how many have been accused of rape, I could not say. But I sincerely doubt that it’s any higher than the national average. I believe that our Troops make every reasonable effort to avoid those things. But I also believe that some of that is an inherent, unavoidable fact of war. War is an ugly thing. Innocent people die. We can either accept that as we send our Troops off to battle, or we can decide that that’s not acceptable to us as a society and take responsibility ourselves for solving our international disputes without going to war. But it is not a fair and reasonable solution to protest the ugliness of war by being narrow-minded, stereotypical, bigoted and abusive to those who provide our very Freedom in the first place.
“Maybe ‘fuck you’ would be a better thing to say…” Well, that depends on your intentions. If you’re looking to start a fight, then “FU” is a great way to start one. Abusive language is only a half-step away from violence. But if you believe in Peace, I’d suggest that “Thank You” will get you much further. As in, “Thank you for defending my right to speak my mind. I’m going to use that right that you gave me to work for Peace. And I’m going to do it with dignity, and respect, and integrity.” That’s how we change the world.