Veterans’ Day is observed at my workplace so I am home today. Actually, I am home every day. But I am not working. Well, I did log in and work for about an hour this morning because I had a task that is best done outside of business hours. After that, I went for a walk to beat the incoming rain (which I can now hear outside) — and I am resolved not to think about work for the rest of the day.
None of my immediate family ever served in the military. My mother encouraged me to think about the military as an alternative to university. I was the first person in my family to attend university. And if I had joined the military, I would have been the first to do that also!
I wonder how autistic people fare in the armed services. I am sure the structured life and work would be helpful. And I find discipline easier to bear when I can see that it applies to everyone. Wearing the same clothes every day is one less thing to have to think about. On the other hand, I am not always quick to realize when I should just shut up and be quiet. I can see myself mouthing off at a 4-star general and ending up with a dishonorable discharge!
Military life is something I do not think a civilian such as myself (from a non-military family) can every truly understand. But I find it fascinating. I am currently watching a documentary series on PBS called American Veteran. The first episode was about basic training (boot camp). The very thought of it is intimidating and I am pretty sure I would have washed out after a couple of days. But if I did manage to make it through, I am sure I would have been better equipped for civilian life also. (Perhaps we need a civilian version of boot camp.) Someone once told me that in was in boot camp that he learned how to pack a bag with all his stuff in a just a couple of minutes — a skill that was a godsend when he traveled as a businessman and had to change plans at a moment’s notice.
Last night, I watched the next two episodes which explored the experience of being deployed to war and then coming home afterwards. The oldest veteran described being part of the D-Day Invasion and it was emotional. There were several Vietnam veterans. But most of the veterans had seen their active service in Iraq or Afghanistan. Amongst the veterans featured, women were well represented, as were African Americans and Native Americans. Some made the transition back to civilian life very well, capitalizing on their acquired skills and experience with a confidence that is amazing. Others had sad stories of PTSD and other obstacles.
It seems like nothing prepares you for the experience of actually killing a person.
An interesting homecoming story concerned a Native American woman from Montana who had served in the US Army. A tribal gathering met her at the airport. An elder presented her with a war bonnet. At first she declined to put it on because women are not permitted to the wear the war bonnet. But he explained that she was a warrior and entitled to wear it — and she put it on. And two traditions briefly intersected.
I once watched the Festival of Remembrance on TV. It takes place in the Royal Albert Hall and concludes with the dropping of poppy petals from the roof while the audience stands in silence. The audience is requested not to brush petals off their clothing — just to let them pile up. Each petal represents a dead soldier. Around one million red petals are dropped — and just when you think it is over, another red cloudburst explodes — and you begin to feel that it is never going to be over — and you have to cry. As a visual commentary it is very powerful. Amongst those petals are tens of thousands of Indian and Irish soldiers who died for Britain on the understanding that they would be granted independence. But that promise was not kept. And men from German-controlled east Africa found themselves having to fight men from the British-controlled territory next door — in a conflict that they had nothing to do with. The colonial powers of Europe reached out to every nook and cranny of their empires to gain whatever leverage they could.
If nothing in military training prepares you for the experience of actually killing someone, I will bet nothing prepares you for the overall folly of certain wars either.
To World War None.