Someone once told me that the young men who voluntarily signed up for the Great War believed it would be a welcome diversion from their humdrum existence on the family farm. Perhaps these soldiers romanticized the noble principles of patriotism. Bravery. Duty. Loyalty. Sacrifice — and maybe even the ultimate one.
The less-than-noble reality is so different. Veterans will tell you that war is ugly and visceral. It is a horror that should never be glorified. Lives of friends are lost in the single ricochet of shrapnel. Others die painfully, slowly, and by degrees. And the minds of survivors are torturedwith nightmares that continue for years–perhaps for the rest of their lives. Families are torn apart. Even those who are not active participants in the war and who are not in direct danger have their lives irrevocably changed. Peace, and a return to normalcy is forever denied when the ideals of what should be over the reality of what is clash and are asserted with deadly force.
We vow that every regional or global conflict will be our last. But those promises are like the New Year’s Resolutions we invariably make on January 1st. Unfortunately, it is in the nature of humans to disagree. Conflict is inevitable. And yet the irony is that conflict forces us to progress. It is depressing to think that we need the threat of retribution to change the status quo.
But in war, there are no winners–even among those history deems the victors. Not everyone we meet can be our friends. And sometimes even those we can only interact remotely with and never ever meet face to face can touch us profoundly on emotional and psychological levels. But all can teach us something, no matter how big or small the lesson, or how difficult the message is to hear and understand. Community can be built, even with differences of opinion. We can agree to disagree, so long as it is a common goal that we work towards.
Remembering those who have served, and those who continue to serve as peacekeepers in troubled lands today, and not just with two minutes of silence on November 11.