When flags fly and national anthems ring out on Veterans Day, it’s easy to get swept up in patriotic sentiment. While there’s nothing wrong with being grateful for living in a free country while recognizing our veterans, I worry that warm, fuzzy feelings of patriotism can blind us from what we’re really supposed to be commemorating. As a mother and educator, I want my children to understand the full reality of this holiday—not just see a line of soldiers salute the flag and feel proud to be American.
So on Veterans Day, I will explain to my children what it means to honor those who serve and have served in the military. I will teach them the importance of respecting the ranks of soldiers charged with protecting our country and the people in it. I will teach them the meaning of commitment, loyalty, and duty.
I will let my children know what great sacrifices soldiers make with their time, energy, families, and lives. I will, according to their capacity to hear it, inform my children of the nightmarish experiences many of them have had to endure. As a family, we will remember the courage and fortitude of those who have chosen this difficult path, and pay our respects with prayer, gratitude, and humility.
I will not, however, let my children imagine—even for a moment—that there is anything warm and fuzzy about war. I will not teach them that there is any honor in sending young men and women into combat zones to be irreparably broken, inside and out. I will not glorify the many wars that have been fought under the false premise of protecting our freedoms. I will not dishonor the sacrifices of those who have lost their physical or emotional lives in politically or economically driven conflicts by claiming that their losses were necessary.
I will, according to their capacity to hear it, explain to my children the true horrors and atrocities of war, so that they will see more than patriotic sentimentality in the events commemorating this holiday. I will share with them the words of five-star general President Eisenhower: “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.” I will impress on them the importance of supporting those who have taken on the duty to serve and protect, but I will make it clear to my children that supporting soldiers as individuals does not mean supporting war.
Our veterans deserve to be honored. They also deserve to have their experiences genuinely recognized for the tragedies they are, not glorified and prettied up for the sake of pride or patriotism.
Suicide among military personnel is at an all-time high. In recent years, more Army personnel have killed themselves than have been killed in battle. We can’t ignore those statistics and the harsh reality they represent. We also must not, in our desire to raise up and honor our veterans, ignore or gloss over the reason they exist, which is that humanity has not learned from its bloodied history that war is not worth its cost.
The congressional resolution for Armistice Day—which evolved into our current Veterans Day—stated that November 11 was to be “commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations.” I believe we need to revisit the original intention of this day and examine how we celebrate it.
This Veterans Day, our family will pray for peace—both inner peace for our soldiers and the global peace we believe is possible. We will honor our veterans by thanking them for their sacrifices while educating ourselves about the horrible realities of war. We will strengthen our commitment to the cause of peace, and consult about ways to actively work toward a more unified world.
Perhaps the best way—the most patriotic way—to honor our veterans is to strive to ensure we won’t need more of them in the future.