Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thanks Grandpa!....and all the souls of Veterans

A message from Colm to Grandpa on Veteran's Day. (Typed laboriously by his own hands):

dear grandpa, i am glad you survivd in the vietnam are a very good grandpa!!!
love colm!

Me again...Colm is full of questions about war as is his sister. It may soon be time for a Q&A with grandpa on the subject.

Over the years I've watched students, boys and girls, enter military service. A few of them have served in combat zones. Their motivations for joining the military vary, as they always have I imagine. Some seek a place where they'll get paid and get their three squares a day; some seek the first concrete step in the project of starting a career path; some are lost and don't know what else to do; some seek a proving ground for their own sense of self worth; some are inspired by ideals of service and revolution...and of course some are a combination of all these things. One thing military service almost always seems to produce in many of these people is an outward change, a carriage, that signifies to some degree an inward state of confidence and purpose. For those people who find the kind of cohesive sense of belonging in the military, this confidence and sense of purpose endures and nourishes them in later life.

I tend to agree with Christopher Hitchens who asserts that if one wants to locate the spirit of idealism in today's generation, one would do well to start with the young men and women who volunteer for military service. They are the ones who are, as often as not, prone to romantic notions about transforming the world and bringing enduring change and lasting peace. All idealistic and utopian impulses are of course fraught with painful and even tragic contradictions ...they are often perfect illustrations of the law of unintended consequences. Still, idealism is a necessary component to our human search for meaning and progress and to our vision of the world we would bequeath to our children.

I would imagine that any veteran who has lived long enough to see grandchildren grow toward the age of young adulthood cannot help but wonder at the seemingly endless parade of youth toward the altar of sacrifice...we do what we can to make things better, but history's appetite for human souls seems boundless. Watching my son and daughter march in a Veterans Day parade - it is the very definition of poignancy.


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