The whole point of free speech is not to make ideas exempt from criticism but to expose them to it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Some thoughts on Veterans Day

I’ve been listening to Veterans Day programming on Public Radio today. It’s hard not to be affected by veterans’ stories, especially amidst the dramatic radio production flair that makes these programs show business. Today’s programming has been excellent, and I’ve had the,, luxury?, yeah, the luxury, of being able to have listened to it all today. Between photographic gigs, y’know. (By the way, take a look at the wrestling photos I’m gonna be posting here tomorrow night.)

People who put on the uniform of some armed service of the United States:
1. Are overwhelmingly fairly (to better-than-fairly) intelligent, well meaning people who implicitly and explicitly express a willingness to die to protect certain principles and actual statutes;
2. Are, I repeat, in the vast majority, people I would be proud to have come to dinner at my house;
3. Are, in the vast majority, people who believe in their mission, which I imagine to be to protect the United States from all enemies, foreign or domestic; and
4. Are people a significant number of whom are lifelong friends and close relatives. I prize those relationships.

People like that are responsible for the good life we have in America compared to that in much of the world. It’s difficult to argue the downside of that, even if I were inclined to.

There’s a rub, though, and it’s pretty rough. We are involved in military actions the wisdom of which I deeply doubt. This has been true of every violent deployment of our armed forces since I have been able to be aware of them. I have to accept that some people will consider me a personal enemy because I oppose the policy that sent them to war. The people I speak of in the numbered paragraph above probably will not consider me an enemy, although we might not agree on policy.

Those are the veterans and current service-folks who really understand the principles for which they risk their lives and who are willing to grant that other folks may have valid reasons for disagreement.

Former state senator Alan Aker wanted a law to punish folks who desecrate the flag (this was around 1998). South Dakota was not awash in folks in dirty t-shirts outside courthousesburning or peeing on flags, so some people wondered what the fuss was about. I was one of them and I asked where he thought his proposal fit in with the First Amendment. He said that burning a flag was censorship.

“????,” I thought, then said as much.

“It censors those who believe in their country if someone can just do that in front of them. It takes away their right to react appropriately.” “Yes,” I thought, “Of course.” Toby Keith sang in the background.

War is one of the few occupations in which one expects to get killed. What I have gathered from listening to people who have experienced combat is that you write yourself off ahead of time, and do what you need to do with nothing to lose. I think I understand that, although I know that someone who has not been in combat (that’s me) probably can’t get it entirely.

I hope that the vets who read this (as well as those who don't) will believe me that I appreciate their service. That’s true even though I vehemently oppose the policies that keep some of you at war today. I’ll buy you a beer if you want to talk.

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