As Veterans Day comes and goes, it would be easy to write a quick tribute piece, honoring the men and women serving in the armed forces. Of course, these pieces have their hearts in the right place, since it’s these men and women in uniform that deserve the nation’s respect and highest esteem.
However I have a problem with the “quick and easy” part. As I’ve stated before (see the highly contentious September 11 piece from a few years back), patriotism for patriotism’s sake immediately puts me on my guard-call it my ‘crazy’ liberal philosophies, but wielding Old Glory like a battle shield isn’t my thing. This isn’t to say I’m anti-American by any means, but agree or disagree, expressing my patriotism through words has always been a complicated process.
In much the same vein, the military has always been a conflicted spot in my conscience. A pacifist by nature, war makes my stomach turn no matter how virtuous the cause. However, I too have seen high school classmates turn to the military after graduation-many of whom are still in Iraq. I would never begrudge them their decision, and I knew many of them had very few other choices.
I can not judge them, just as I can not judge my father. With few avenues open to him after graduating high school-the second son of a single mother-my father chose to enter the Navy instead of going to college. Sometimes it’s hard to believe, especially considering that I spend most days whining about my very expensive education. But I live a life of privilege and comfort partly due to a father’s sacrifice.
Perhaps I have conflicted attitudes toward the military because my father didn’t actually see “action.” As odd as it sounds, he was never stationed on a ship. Entering the medical branch, he instead spent his time at the Portsmith Naval Medical Center in Portsmith, Va., and North Carolina’s Camp LeJeune. I’m sure he went to boot camp, a lot of which probably involved swimming. However, there were few guns in the operating room of the Orlando Naval Medical Center. Instead, he was trained in the art of surgery and emerged not a battle-scarred vet haunted with post-traumatic stress disorder, but a certified surgical technician (you know, the people they ignore on Gray’s Anatomy).
Again, this perception is conflicted because it’s all I know. My father rarely speaks about his Navy days, and when he does it’s usually with a shrug and “What do you want to know? I helped cut people open.” Clearly, you can see where I inherited my natural eloquence.
But beside that, some days it seems my father attended a trade school rather than devote four years to the military. I’m oftentimes left with the impression that the time my father spent serving his country left him not with “war stories,” but a spot on his lung from all the smoking (oh the irony) and an obsession with rock and roll. After his time with Uncle Sam was up, he moved back to Cincinnati and at 22, received the job that would help our family remain within the comfortable confines of the middle class. Both myself and my younger brothers will be able to attend college, affording us opportunities that neither my parents were able to realize.
It’s this thought that oftentimes leaves me speechless, and while it may seem cliché, it’s true: I am the first in my immediate family to attend and graduate college. First generation college students are hard to come by at Miami University, although I’m sure they’re here, quiet though their voices may be. It’s a solemn burden and one I refuse to take for granted. It drives me to work hard at everything I do-if only to bring home those grades and prove to my parents that their decision to choose work over education was not in vain.
I admit that I do not have the most intimate connections with the military. Lord help me if I was ever such a poseur and acted as if my plight was more important than those who have brothers, sisters, husbands, wives or parents currently serving in the military-particularly those who have seen life and death unfold on its stage. However, Veterans Day still leaves me with an unmistaken sense of pride. Pride in my country, of course, but also for those who sacrifice so much for a future they are barely able to conceive. Again, I have problems writing about patriotism, but I firmly believe this is an important tenet to keep in mind as we go about our fancy lives as Miami students-we’re lucky to get this far. Let’s not forget those who have made these opportunities within our grasp.