As I write this, it is Veterans’ Day 2013, and everywhere people are honoring and memorializing members of our armed services. My father, Frank Kennedy Mears, Jr., was a major in the U.S. Army. When I was three, in 1955, we lived at Carlisle Army Barracks in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where Dad was an Army surgeon.
Raised a Quaker in Philadelphia — attending Germantown Friends School, and then Haverford College — Dad was taught that all violence and war are abominations, but having witnessed the rise of Hitler and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he came to see — rightly, I think — that sometimes we have to fight evil with more than prayers and words. His military service, as an Army doctor, was a reasonable compromise, and throughout his life, my father strove to always be a reasonable man.
Many others in this world are not so reasonable, and a lot of them are prone to violence. Some of them even occupy positions of great power in national governments, including our own.
In my personal view — and I think Dad would have agreed, had he still been alive — the George W. Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq was a triumph of stupidity over reason, a clear case of ambition, greed, ignorance and war hysteria trumping common sense. True, there were those (like Barack Obama and myself) who at the time raised their voices in opposition to the war, but our voices were drowned out by the drumbeats of rage and unreason. As a result, we committed our nation to seemingly endless years of bad news, to tens of thousands of shattered lives among our servicemembers, to hundreds of thousands of shattered lives among the Iraqi people, and to hundreds of billions of dollars of tax dollars wasted on a harebrained adventure that strengthened the hands of those who hated us and soiled our nation’s reputation and moral authority.
None know the true cost of war better than its victims: those whose homes and families are destroyed; those who fight in the war and come home scarred from skin to soul, often missing limbs and faces; and those who must clean up the messes left behind. Iraqi children are still being born with birth defects due to depleted uranium ordinance used by our soldiers. Afghan families are still trying to make sense of drone strikes that killed their grandparents, their children, their pregnant wives and mothers. Vietnam War veterans are still dealing with the after-effects of Agent Orange and post-traumatic stress disorder. Hundreds of thousands of veterans are unemployed, mentally and/or physically disabled, and/or homeless. The Veterans Administration gets laughs on the Daily Show for its incompetence, but the truth is that we were eager to rush off to Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan, but are too cheap and heartless to really take care of our men and women who returned from those wars. Politicians talk about taking care of our veterans, but what do they actually do about it?
So this Veterans’ Day, I pray for three things:
- That we will truly start living up to the promises we’ve made to our veterans, to offer them everything they need to put their lives back together when they return from conflicts overseas: easily accessible health care, job training, jobs, and housing;
- That we will stop sending them into debacles like Bush’s Iraq War; and
- That we will hold accountable those who manipulated our nation into that pointless, no-win war.
I pray that we will truly become a nation that values peace over war, that finds peace within itself and promotes it around the world, and that prioritizes peacetime progress over unjust wars of choice.
And I pray that on Veterans’ Day we will also honor those who did not serve in the military, but who fought in a struggle that is even more important: the struggle for racial, social, and economic justice in this country. That struggle goes on every day, and a struggle in which I am proud to have played a part, with so many others I am proud to call my family and my friends.