I think it was Winston Churchill who once said, when speaking about Russia, "it is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma." Yep, that describes me well enough. Compassionate, but capable of blunt judgment. Supportive of the right to express views, but intolerant of some. Peaceful, yet capable of frightening violence. In short, conflicted and enigmatic, just like the rest of us. But I try not to feel badly about it, choosing instead to drink from the wisdom of Walt Whitman:
"Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes."
My contradictions, my multitudes, are often kept at bay through reason and patience and a general state of inner calm and acceptance, which usually serve me quite well. But sometimes . . . sometimes I see or hear something that transforms all of the world's gray into stark black and white. Often, it involves children - demeaning them, hitting them, or the horrific abuses like we see unfolding at Penn State. Sometimes, it involves politics. Right now, I find myself fired up about the Occupy movements.
I saw something on Facebook the other day about a planned Occupy protest in the Midwest. The person who posted it added a short comment below the link: "Time to get out the steamroller." My negative reaction was swift and strong, and much deeper that I thought it would be. Like many people I have been following the Occupy movement from afar. I am angry about the impact of the government/business relationship on the 99%, and I support the right of people to stand up and say "enough is enough." But I also see firsthand the erosion of personal responsibility on this country that has little to do with corporations, and I wonder if the protests will be effective or simply snub out in a kinder of apathy like so many other modern American protests. And I have been struck by my own personal choice on involvement - believing in the movement, but unwilling to risk activism because I am afraid of losing my job/house/car. Sad, but there it is. So it has been interesting to watch.
But when I saw that steamroller comment, I was pissed. Cities are driving the protesters out of public places, police have in some cases acted with brutality, the media and corporations have been scornful or dismissive for the most part, and millions of Americans believe that the Occupy protesters are being unpatriotic and un-American.
And that, my friends, is where I call bullshit. Let me tell you why.
For those of you who pay attention to such things, tomorrow is Veterans Day in the United States. Veterans Day (and there is no apostrophe in 'veterans', btw) was declared an official national holiday in 1958, although it had been celebrated on and off since 1919 as Armistice Day, to celebrate the end of World War I. For some people, Veterans Day serves as a reminder of the service that veterans and their families have rendered to our nation, largely to fulfill the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for which our Founding Fathers risked so much. Not all wars are just and not all are justified, and the idea of "fighting to preserve freedom" has been used as a flag-covered guise for darker purposes many times over our nation's brief history. We have killed innocent people at home and abroad, for manifest destiny and imperialism and oil and to fight demons that did not really exist. Not all of our "wars" have been like this, but some have been. But since we declared our independence from England in 1776, nearly 2.5 million men and women have given their lives or limbs while in uniform. Countless millions more were forever afflicted with wounds invisible to the eye, and millions of family members were - and continue to be - forever changed by the sacrifices of a few good men and women. These sacrifices were, in the most part, made in order to preserve freedom, in whatever sense that word was used at the time.
I served in the US Army for seven years, seven months, and nine days, getting out as a Staff Sergeant after several quick promotions. I never saw combat, but I did see plenty of blood and pain and death, more foxholes than I can count, weeks and months of time away from things and people I loved, and a ton of other things that it's hard to explain. I was disabled, but it was from a poorly-treated football injury. I served with many people whom I believe to be heroes, and did the best I could to help them through the tough times that come both before and after combat. I didn't do it for the medals, or the thanks, or the glory, and I don't want them now.
I served in an effort to preserve some of the good in our country, like our right to follow in the footsteps of our Founding Fathers and stand up for injustice and inequality with any and all means at our disposal. I did NOT do all of it to enrich corporations, or enable politicians to destroy honest protest with rhetoric, or allow police to violently break up demonstrations in which citizens exercise their right to call bullshit on a system that we all know to be corrupt. I am the 99%, I served for the 99%, I support the 99%, and if you don't like it you can kiss 99% of my ass - and with this ass, that's a whole bunch.
If you want to thank a veteran this Veterans Day, all you have to do is simply live life in the way that it is meant to be lived, and by exercising the freedoms that so many people have sacrificed to preserve for you. Celebrate life in all its varied forms. Plant a tree. Love a child. Laugh. Live a day without fear of repression. Vote. Protest. Write your Congressperson. Call "bullshit" when you see something you don't agree with. Adopt a well-reasoned ideology. Kiss a dog. Hold your leaders accountable, especially on a local level. Run for office. Write a letter to the editor. Take a day off from work and watch TV. Go for a walk and breathe fresh air. Go to a museum and get lost in the beauty of expression. Burn a flag. Raise a flag. Have a message, a meaning, a purpose, and share it with others. Offer your help. Offer your ear. Offer your heart, and accept it from others.
If you want to thank a veteran this Veterans Day, exercise the freedoms we served for. Live life, promote and enjoy liberty, and pursue happiness. It is your right to do all of those, and I think it's our responsibility to do them to the best of our ability. And when it's over, and you are free and happy, when you see a veteran just offer a smile and nod and quiet 'thank you'; I bet the veteran will know exactly what you mean.