Reflections on the Meaning of November 11th
by Bill Distler
Bill Distler is a Vietnam veteran and member of Whatcom County’s Veterans For Peace, Jonathan J. Santos Memorial Chapter 111.
Veterans Day has always been difficult for me. Most of us who have been in war don’t get pleasure from talking about it. It’s different in that way from most human activities.
In order to tell a complete and true war story you have to include the fear and confusion, the unfairness of who lives and who dies, and the mistakes that cost people their lives. Most people don’t want to hear about that. They want to hear something soothing so that they don’t have to think too much. That’s where politicians come in. Many politicians are willing to tell untruths about veterans and war. They thank us for our service. This makes me cringe. I know that everyone reaches different conclusions about their actions, but in my judgment, my time in Vietnam did not provide a service to my country. I’ve tried in my own way over the years to make up for the shortsightedness of my youth by working for peace with groups like Veterans For Peace.
I don’t want anyone to thank me for being in Vietnam because they don’t know what I did. Only I know that, and if anyone asks, I’ll try to describe it as honestly as I can. You probably won’t like what you hear, but the truth about war should be hard, if not impossible to listen to without being moved to work for peace.
Veterans Day used to be called Armistice Day. Armistice Day marked the end of the slaughter of 15 million soldiers and civilians in World War I. It was also a day set aside to pray for world peace. There was a recognition that the suffering caused by war descended mainly on the children of the countries where wars were fought.
Veterans Day puts the focus on soldiers. But an honest accounting would put the focus on all victims of war, especially children. Children don’t start wars, but they are the ones who lose the most. They lose their homes, communities, and often, their entire towns. They lose their parents and siblings, they lose their limbs, and they lose their trust in the ability of adults to keep them safe.
Today, many of our younger veterans are hurting. Words of thanks may help, but jobs, housing, and health care for veterans and their families would help even more. We should also fulfill our responsibility to the wounded and homeless children of Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, if we paid to repair all the human damage that war causes, we wouldn’t have enough money left to fight the next war, and that would be good.
But where can we get the money needed to repair the damage? Here is a very modest proposal. Victims of war don’t profit from war, but our weapons makers do. Why don’t we ask our large weapons-making corporations to turn over their profits from war to a “Returning Soldiers and Children’s Fund”? Private charity is good, but it can barely make a dent in this problem. Our weapons makers should welcome the opportunity to demonstrate their patriotism by using their war profits to help repair the damage that their products have caused. §