(this post has been brought to you without spell check, please ignore the stuff I didn’t catch!)
There is one thing that all veterans share. Its something they share regardless of rank, branch of service, rating (the Navy term for military job field), background and upbringing, religion, race, socioeconomic status, gender, political opinion, and even view of the military and of their service. And that one thing is a reconciliation, internalization, and intimate awareness of the meaning of Delphic Maxim #132.
I’m not sure how this particular maxim actually played out in ancient Greek society, nor do I think that it matters in a modern context. In all actuallity, I think its probably a maxim that needs to be revised a bit–perhaps be willing to die for your country, or maybe even be willing to die for anything that you consider dear to you or important to your survival, or (in my more cynical moments) be willing to just do something that requires some effort and makes you a little bit uncomfortable in the defense of something larger than yourself.
I don’t pretend to be some self-sacrificing type looking to be a hero. And I don’t pretend to know what it is like to be in a war zone either in this conflict, or in preceeding ones, risking my life on a daily basis just to do my job and having to make inchomprehensible decisions in order to make it home to my family. Aside from deploying on a very large, rather well defended vessle, nearly all of my six years in the military were spent stateside. Two of those years were spent on sea duty, not quite a year was spent in training, and the rest were spent on shore duty (mostly while my husband was on sea duty). But, like every veteran (whether they had the opportunity to test their personal hypothesis out or not), I accepted the possibility of dying in the line of duty.
By the measure of a certain sort of person, I’m no great patriot. I don’t believe in an inherent (or, for that matter, acquired) superiority of the United States of America–one of my favorite songs in the Unitarian Unversalist hymnal (Hymn #159, This Is My Song) contains the line “My countries skies are blue than the ocean, and sunlight beams on clover leaf and pine, but other lands have sunlight too, and clover, and skies are everywhere as blue as mine.”, which sums up my feelings pretty succinctily. I love my country–loving my country does not mean hating other countries, nor does it mean whitewashing its history or ignoring its inconsistencies and inadequacies. I love the ideals that it was founded upon–the right of life, liberty, and the persuit of happiness as provided for in the Constitution are my values. While I have never had a desire to die, when I took the Oath of Enlistment, I made the conscious decision that these values were worthy of my life.
I know that there are those (both within and without Pagan and UU communities) that harbor huge amounts of antagonism for military members. I know because I’ve been the recipient. I’ve actually dealt with more prejudice from Pagans for being military than I ever revieved from military members for being Pagan. And I can understand that antagonism. The military is the offensive and defensive enforcement arm of our political system, and our political system is made up of the people we vote for (or fail to vote for). Its easier to hate on the military than it is to hate our own apathy to the system. Its easier to hate an institution for the actions of a minority than it is to hold ourselves accountable for creating the societal conditions that created the situation in the first place. But the decision to join the military is not a tacit approval of the political status quo, and holding all military members accountable for the actions of a few, or for the conditions that have developed as a result of political apathy is ultimately unfair and incredibly prejudicial.
I am damn proud to have worn the uniform of the United States Navy, and I am damned happy to have left this Delphic Maxim unfulfilled. Yet…if I had died doing my duty, even in a war I questioned the wisdom and justness of, I would not have considered my death a waste. Because a society that considers life too sacred to risk is a society that has lost the ability to hold any deep seated values at all–if you aren’t willing to die for anything, you aren’t living for it very well either. And in the end, the society that has nothing to live for will die with nothing worth remembering it for.
In thanks we lift our hearts this day,
for those at home and far away
Who heard the call to love’s high goals
and answered with their very souls.
Bless all who serve where e’re they be,
on land, in flight, or on the sea.
(an alternate UU lyric to the Navy Hymn for all service memebers, by Andrew Millard)