A couple of months ago my friend Sat Bir Kaur Khalsa of the Tucson Culture of Peace Alliance asked me if I would speak at the annual PeaceWalk, a remarkable coming together of Jewish and Islamic voices for Peace in the midst of the strife. Sat Bir thought that since this year's event fell on November 11th it would be good to have a veteran's voice be heard.
What follows is the text of the remarks I'll be delivering later today. As busy as Veterans Day is for me I'll be out and about and unable to respond to comments until much later this evening. Please excuse my bad manners.
Intended as it is for oral delivery, it's not grammatically correct. Written in the meter in which I speak, it goes:
We're gathered here today to attend to Peace. To pray for Peace. Hope for Peace.
Maybe even to understand how we can help bring Peace into a culture founded on
war and rumors of war.
Perhaps by coincidence this year's PeaceWalk falls on Veterans Day, November
11th, what my Mother called Armistice Day, when they ended the War To End All
Wars. Or so they said.
Sometimes it is instructive to consider something in light of its negation. To better
understand what something is by reflecting on what it is not. The familiar compare
and contrast formula brought to everyday life. Walking for Peace on the very day we
honor those who have served in war, or who have made ready for war, presents
such an opportunity. Walking a mile in the shoes of the warrior informs the
About a week ago, exchanging emails with Sat Bir about the subject of my
comments today, she stated a too poignant metaphor. Describing the suffering of
so many of the young men and women being honored elsewhere today, she wrote:
Physicists talk about black holes, how the gravity is so intense that nothing canThank you, Sat Bir, I wish I had your gift for words.
escape them, yet we fail to understand the black holes of pain sucking these
beautiful souls away from life.
If the negation of social peace is war, the negation of personal peace is certainly the
taking of one's own life. Feeling a gravity so intense that nothing can escape it. That
no one gets out alive. And that is precisely the black hole that is swallowing far, far
too many of our young men and women, boys and girls many of them, who return
from war, or aiding and abetting war, or making ready for war, only to take their own
There is an epidemic of suicide among our returning veterans. Depending on
whose numbers you believe, anywhere from eighteen or nineteen all the way up to
twenty five of our warriors die by their own hand for every one that falls on the
battlefield. Some while they are still in the theater of war, the vast majority later, after they are safely home, after the smoke has cleared, the fog of war lifted, living with their experiences in the bright light of a society untouched by what they've gone
through. Alone with their thoughts. The memories of their deeds, their fears, their
Twenty-something to one they fall not to an enemy on a battlefield but to their own nightmares.
Deaths, of course, are easily quantifiable. Deaths by suicide perhaps more arguably.
But there are no even vaguely reliable figures for how many of our children we sent
off in pursuit of . . . what? who succumb to the living deaths of substance abuse,
homelessness, and chronic unemployment. Rest ill assured the numbers are
exponentially higher, and will only continue to grow.
Literally millions of "beautiful souls" destroyed and destroying themselves, sucked away from life. From peace.
Not that we haven't seen all this before. Twenty some years ago I was in
correspondence with the editor of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly. She
ran a long, ongoing study into the deaths of Viet Nam veterans compared to control
groups of young men of the same age cohort who had never put on the uniform or,
if they did, were never anyplace near Viet Nam. Over the long haul Viet Nam
veterans died of every single category studied, suicide, overdose, one car accident -
aren't these just other words for suicide? - et cetera, with the single exception of
cardiovascular failure, at statistically significantly higher rates than their non Viet Nam veteran peers. It was plain that something was going on.
And that, of course, was before the passage of years allowed the dioxin residue of
Agent Orange to wreak its havoc on the bodies of those of us who were sprayed and
betrayed. My own ischemic heart disease, and the heart attacks it caused, are direct
results of the military industrial complex run amok. I haven't seen the numbers, but I
suspect that that lone outlier category, cardiovascular disease, has probably fallen in
line with the others.
This is the future our young men and women, those who were willing to make out a
blank check to We, the People for any amount up to and including their very lives,
this is the present and the future with which we've repaid their selfless dedication.
We may have doubts about the wisdom, reservations about the morality, of the
choice they made to serve our nation in the best way they knew how, but we can
not, must not, ever doubt the enormity of the gift they offered us. That we
squandered their gift on less than trifles is a shame upon us all.
When we go away from today's PeaceWalk let's bear in mind some wisdom from the
Vietnam Veterans Against the War - Honor the Warrior, Not the War.
To our boys and girls returned home from Iraq, Afghanistan, or whatever far flung
place, May you know peace. May we know peace. May I know peace.