Note – the video doesn’t play directly from the blog, but does from YouTube. Click the link and watch it; you’ll be glad you did.
Veteran’s Day can be a challenging observation for those of us in the peace movement. As a committed pacifist, I deplore all war. The very existence of armed conflict is, in my view, the most colossal and self-defeating waste of resources ever devised by humanity. At the same time, I recognize the sacrifices of women and men who have gone to war – some voluntarily and some not so. I’ve seen minds damaged and families destroyed by the aftermath of battle. I’ve seen good people walking around with physical and emotional injuries that will never show. And I cannot help but honor these women and men, not because of the injuries, but because of the sacrifices they made out of love of country. I may not agree with the need for those sacrifices, but I surely honor the people who made them.
Utah Phillips once said that the way wars can end is when soldiers start talking about what it was really like. He has said that his time in Panmunjom immediately after the treaty was “absolute life amid the ruins.”
On today’s Morning Edition, National Public Radio’s political commentator Cokie Roberts talked about the effect of fewer veterans serving in Congress. “You see it in debates about taking the United States into military actions where you don’t hear the voices of those very experienced veterans.” I wondered how eager politicians would be to enter wars if more of them understood it better.
I’ve always appreciated A. L. Lloyd’s Seamen’s Hymn. In its brief simplicity it captures both the honor of sacrifice and the cruelty of war:
Come all you bold seamen
Wherever you’re bound
And always let Nelson’s
Proud memory go round.
And pray that the wars
And the tumult shall cease
For the greatest of gifts
Is a sweet lasting peace.
May the Lord put an end
To these cruel old wars
And bring peace and contentment
To all our brave tars!
There are several videos of performances of “The Seamen’s Hymn,” but to my ear this recording from a pub sing captures it best. This is how the song should be sung – by the people, often and loudly.
On this Veteran’s Day, may we honor sacrifices made in war, recognize its cruelty, and join together in prayer for the greatest of gifts – a sweet lasting peace.