This day used to be called Armistice Day.
On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, everyone who'd been busy shooting and bombing and generally trying to make each other's lives miserable would put down their guns, step away from the cannons, and just stop. The War To End All Wars would be over. Armistice.
I like that idea, that this was the day to remember when our species made a conscious effort to knock off the business of killing each other. It didn't last, of course. The world wound up marching back to war in the 30s, into the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and into the 21st Century. (I'm pretty sure there was some shooting going on in the 20s, too, but I'm not sure the War On Alcohol counts.) My country has been killing people for a good long time, and I doubt it'll stop anytime soon. I don't like war, but I know that there are times when it's justified. I would've signed up in WWII. I'm pretty sure most of my friends would've.
Part of me wishes we could be more ridiculous in the ways nations settle their differences. I wish we could just play paintball. Or Twister. Or have a bake-off. Or, better yet, just send our governments to fight in our place. We'll stay at home while Bush and Saddam go chase each other around a desert island. Maybe things would be better for everyone; the winner could call back and say, “Hey, I won,” and the rest of us could say, “That's nice. We've been getting along fine without the both of you. Hope you enjoy coconuts.”
But I know that ain't gonna happen. I'm not going to play Twister when someone shows up to the party with a baseball bat. There's nothing like being faced with the possibility of getting you, your family, your neighbors, your country, everything you've known and worked for and loved getting pulverized to get you to change your mind about territory, resources or policy. War works because it levels the playing field. Literally.
But we forget the cost of it all. We make speeches and raise monuments, but how about putting our money where our mouths are? Every time I see someone with a “Support Our Troops” bumper sticker, I want to ask, “What did you do today? Did you give to the USO? Did you write your Congressmen to make sure that VA benefits don't get cut? Did you bake a cake? Write a letter? Anything?”
Earlier this year, someone forwarded an email that had pictures of GIs huddled in Iraqi sandstorms, sleeping in ditches, wearing the NBC suits. The email asked, “How did you sleep last night? Just remember that you slept safely because these people didn't.” I was so furious that I fired off a response to everyone who got the original letter, and asked how how they support this war? How could they think there's a link between 9/11 and Iraq? How could they think that bombing the bejeezus out of Iraq was going to make our lives safer? What did you *really* do today to “support the troops”? I got back three responses, one positive along the lines of “Right the hell on for saying that,” and two saying, “How dare you say these things?”
How dare I not?
It's my job as an American to stand up, to question, to demand answers. It's my job to protest, to write letters, to send checks, to buy phone cards for overseas GIs. It's my job to make sure that kids aren't sent overseas to fight and die for nothing less than protecting America. And this war has done nothing like that. This administration has done nothing like that. Do I feel any safer today than I did three years ago? Two years ago? One?
No. And I'm going to keep on saying so.
And I'm going to keep on writing letters. I'm going to send money to the VFW. I'm going to keep on buying phone cards, raising money, raising hell. I'm going to make sure that we don't have to send people in uniforms unless we have to. I'm going to keep up my part of the bargain, just like the people coming back from the front have kept up theirs.