A gift to all veterans for Veteran's Day
We can all give a collective gift to all of our nation's veterans this coming Veteran's Day (Wednesday, Nov. 11) . We can listen to five former soldiers bare the most secret and sacred part of their souls as they tell their stories in hopes of changing our behavior as a country, as human beings and bringing real peace to us.
This Veteran's Day, the documentary “The Good Soldier” (www.thegoodsoldier.com) tells the truth about what it really means to be a “good soldier." It means that you develop the ability to kill other human beings, vast numbers of them, in as little time as possible, with as few resources as possible (think WMD's here), without question and without remorse (i.e. put aside your holiness as a human being, your humanity).
This film will be shown locally as part of a national opening on Nov. 11 at 5 and 7 p.m. at Proctor's on State Street in Schenectady in honor of our local veterans. John Amidon, local peace worker and member of the local Veterans for Peace chapter, will have a discussion panel of local veterans after the 7 p.m. showing.
Directed by Lexy Lovell and Michael Uys, the film follows five “war generation” of veterans, one from WWII, two from Vietnam, one from the Gulf War and one from the Iraq War, as they struggle with what they have done to other human beings in the name of what they were told was “duty to their country” and what in turn was done to them.
They all struggle with guilt and regret; and they all talk about that time in the military when they felt that they actually needed to kill. The desire, skills and permission to kill came from their military training. They all struggle, at one point in their lives, with “being animals,” as one vet put it.
The vets describe being strangers in a strange land and the ghastly, abject horror that was their reality in combat. That slaughter and maiming of innocent civilians is part and parcel of war, and anyone who tells you different is just downright stupid, badly misinformed or a bald-faced liar of the worst kind. Listening to their descriptions of what they saw and what they did was like seeing the photographs of the dismembered war dead that occasionally make their way into what passes as news in this country. And it hurts to listen to them. Perry Parks (chief warrant officer -- Vietnam) tells of the American solider who had a string of human ears of the “enemies” he had killed hanging off his belt. Parks rightfully points out that this was a war crime.
It is also a joyful (yes that's the right word) story of reclaiming their holiness as human beings, coming to grips what what they have seen and done, repenting and being redeemed -- in short, reclaiming their humanity. This struggle is painfully evident on the face of Jimmy Massey (staff sergeant – Iraq) as he tries to learn to live with being a part of killing 40 innocent civilians in Iraq and repenting of his involvement. How does one ever “make up” for such actions? Is it even possible? Tough questions to ask and even tougher to answer. But asked and answered they must be for all our sakes.
Massey's story also uncovers the brutal clash between Empire and the kingdom of God, as in render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's (Luke 20:25). That statement continues to be one of the most revolutionary and seditious ever uttered by Jesus or anyone else and was one of the significant reasons the empire employed to execute him. Declaring that the State is not God is still so threatening to Empire that it continues to use that excuse to execute and harass to this very day. Massey is appalled at the slaughter of innocent civilians in a specific incident and is told by a superior that's a “good day” in the Marines. When he tries to confront this issue he “loses it” (his description of a mental breakdown in the field) and gets labeled as crazy. It would seem to me that in the face of such carnage, “losing it” would be one of the few sane responses a person who understood our collective holiness and humanity could have. To realize that the power of Empire is aligned with death while our power as human beings is not, is to forever forswear allegiance to the State (in Massey's case the military) in favor of allegiance to kingdom of God, where we care for each other. I can imagine few people for whom this epiphany would be more problematic and painful than to someone in the military. You can see it rip at Massey's soul and it rends yours right along with it.
If you know someone who is considering joining the military, help them to see this movie before they sign on the dotted line.
Tickets for the Nov. 11 showing for veterans, seniors and students are $4, all others are $6 (still a bargain at today's prices). To help students (high school) see this film, there are a couple of generous sponsors who have purchased 100 tickets to give out to students as a gift. To get your complimentary ticket, go to the Proctor's box office with your student ID. One ticket per student -- and we do only have 100, so get there early.
If you know someone who is a veteran who is struggling, reach out to them very tenderly and let them know there is a whole community of veterans who have been where they have been and who are ready to accompany them on the journey to healing. Veteran's for Peace at the national site is: www.veteransforpeace.org and locally at www.vfpchapter10.org is a great place to start.
The five men in “The Good Solider” give us the gift of sharing their innermost, soul-searching conflicts as they heal; our gift in turn to them and to all of our veterans is to listen to them.