The National Catholic Review
The families of Americans who fight overseas know that the soldiers are not simply boots on the ground to be manipulated for geopolitical advantage: they are our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters and our friends, and we must never stop trying to find ways to honor them and the sacrifices they have made. As we celebrate all veterans this week, we recognize in particular the 200,000 brave American soldiers deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. To give those who fight for our country proper respect requires that we honor their commitment before, during and after service.

Before They Fight. Honoring soldiers, especially before they enter battle, requires that we be honest as a people about what we are asking from recruits. Opponents of a military draft in the Vietnam era pointed out the injustice of the mandatory conscription of our nation’s youth, but it would be hard to deny that the draft was at least a brutally honest admission that few recruits would have volunteered to fight that war. It is neither just nor honest, however, to continue the current practice of luring recruits into the armed services with promises of career advancement, financial aid for higher education or the acquisition of professional skills. The primary task of a soldier is to wage war. We do our troops a disservice if we suggest that their commitment is no more than a glamorous but slightly risky office internship. Military recruiters insist that those who enlist are told they will likely be deployed into a war zone, but the slick, expensive marketing efforts of the military sometimes suggest a more disingenuous recruitment process.

The military also relies heavily on recent arrivals and disadvantaged members of the population to fight our wars. According to statistics from the Department of Defense, the Army includes almost three times the proportion of African-Americans as the general population. One survey of enlisted Latinos shows that fewer than 40 percent were born in the United States to U.S.-born parents. It would be an insult to our veterans to suggest that anyone chooses to enlist in wartime solely for financial reasons, but we must also ask ourselves: At what point do we jeopardize the integrity of our volunteer army by recruiting young people with few other options?

While They Fight. We honor soldiers during wartime by doing our best to care for their families in their absence. A crucial component of that assistance is the provision of the financial resources they need for proper housing and medical care. Recent news reports have noted that many private security guards contracted to work in Iraq receive more than $10,000 a month in salary. Such high compensation reflects the difficulty of attracting civilians to such dangerous situations. While it is hard to put a price tag on going into harm’s way, a comparison is telling: a newly enlisted soldier in the U.S. Army can expect to start at a scandalously low salary of $1,300 a month, supplemented in war zones by a few hundred dollars more a month in combat pay and other bonuses. The discrepancy reflects fiscal realities, to be sure, but it means that our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have precious little to bring home to their spouses and children, many of whom live at subsistence levels in military housing and struggle to stay afloat.

After They Fight. We honor returning soldiers not only with heartfelt thanks and just remuneration for their sacrifice, but with comprehensive medical care and assistance as they make the transition back into American life. Those over 40 remember the traumatic experience many soldiers faced when they returned from Southeast Asia to a divided nation not always appreciative of their service. What lessons can we learn from that conflict as we experience again large numbers of returning soldiers who have faced the nightmarish conditions of modern warfare? According to reports from the Walter Reed Army Institute, fully one in three veterans of the Iraq war seeks assistance with mental health. The physically wounded, including those who have lost limbs or suffered traumatic brain injuries, will in many cases require medical attention for the rest of their lives. Yet just five months ago, news reports indicated that 400,000 American veterans await disability benefits, in part because of massive deficits at the Department of Veterans Affairs. To allow fiscal considerations to reduce or postpone care for returning soldiers is perhaps the least patriotic act possible. The nation must commit the financial resources necessary to express our gratitude.

As we pray for a quick and just conclusion to these wars, we remember the men and women who serve in the military. Americans should join them in mourning the dead, thank them for their selflessness and offer them and their families the concrete assistance they deserve as our heroic veterans.

Comments

Lisa Erazmus | 1/28/2008 - 12:43pm
I agree that the soldiers should not be treated unjustly but then they need to stand up and refuse to fight in unjust wars. A saying of many years ago holds true: "What if someone threw a war and nobody came?" The only way we are going to bring peace to this sad, wounded world of ours is to refuse to comply with policies - political, economic, and otherwise - that only cause more violence and injustice. I pray most for conscientious objectors who have done so and who continue to speak out against war to the detriment of their lives and their families' lives. THEY are the real heroes. I am so distressed by the continual references (in our Catholic churches and schools) to pray for the soldiers who are "protecting our country or our freedom." In this war, specifically, what freedoms are they "protecting"? The soldiers are not only perhaps treated without respect but they are first and foremost brainwashed into believing that they might actually be doing some good. I constantly ask my students to pray for the victims of war - the children being the most vulnerable - and that includes but is not limited to the soldiers - on both sides. War is never good. Unfortunately, we have the legacies of Augustine and Aquinas to thank for the idea that any war COULD be just. I turn to the Gospel of Jesus. There is no justice in an act so bereft of love as war. One response to this article that was published in a January issue stated that soldiers actually get paid better than we thought. So, the title of that response was appropos - Making a Killing - it appeared that the writer felt that we should be proud of the fact that people can make good money by killing others. Wouldn't it be so much better in our world if we could pay people "tons of money" to make peace?
RICH BRODERICK | 11/28/2007 - 5:18pm
The Editors article: ”Thanking Our Soldiers” (11/ 04/ 07), draws a fine line comparison with Horace the Roman poet’s “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori,” translated in English as: "It is a sweet and glorious thing to die for ones country.” However, when it was read in the Roman Senate by Tactius, it was read with a sense of sadness not bravado, since it could be another anthem for doomed youth. Lost in the fog of war, are the civilian casualties which number much higher than soldiers: a ratio of 8:1. The Project on Defense Alternatives, a research institute from Cambridge, Massachusetts, offers the most comprehensive account so far of how many Iraqi civilians may have died, at least 100,000. Civilians who suffer the horrors of war receive no honor, their are no parades or memorials in their memory, Their suffering and deaths are seldom included in our church prayers as we pray weekly for our troops in harms way. We should not forget that this “collateral damage” of war is done by marching armies. If dioceses and parishes took the teachings of Jesus more seriously, we would actively encourage our young men and women to consider conscientious objection as an alternative to this immoral and illegal war. We can make war and those who fight in wars out to be honorable and heroic by our prayers. Our unconditional support for “The Troops” could be another unintended anthem for sending our youth to a disastrous fate. Who would Jesus be praying for in our churches? Fr. Rich Broderick Cambridge, NY 12816 email: richaroo@earthlink.net
Kenneth Schaefer | 11/8/2007 - 11:17pm
I am a veteran of 20 years of active duty in the US Air Force--1970 to 1990. I am also a deacon. There are many reasons I stayed for a career in the military. I am a person of service. I care very much for the United States. I earned a meager living. I gained an education and many experiences working and living with diverse populations. My service allows me to do what I do as a deacon today-to serve. If you believe in deomocracy then each and every one of you sent me to do the jobs I did for my country! Let's say that the entire US military stands down. All weapons are deactivated unilaterally. What would happen? I would like to think others would lay aside their weapons. It won't happen. The US will be vulnerable to the most powerful. I abhor war! I want peace. However, please don't go about your daily lives without thinking and praying for the women and men in uniform. Don't take your peace and safety for granted by hiding behind the curtain of safety provided by those who put themselves in harm's way because they love their country-that is you and me-and then condemn them for providng that safety. If they didn't protect you perhaps you would be forced to protect yourself or live as a slave. We owe our service people all they need and much more for their service. War is a terrible thing. The Iraq war is an unjust war. But don't treat those you send to fight it unjustly!
Barbara Quintiliano | 11/7/2007 - 9:48am
I'm not a Catholic but a practicing Christian of a non-Catholic denomination. "The families of Americans who fight overseas know that the soldiers are not simply boots on the ground to be manipulated for geopolitical advantage..." But the fact is that our soldiers ARE being manipulated for geopolitical advantage, as are the Iraqi people themselves. Surely there are some lucid members of the editorial staff of America who realize this. "The primary task of a soldier is to wage war." A far more honest reformulation of that sentence would be: the primary task of a soldier is to kill lest he/she be killed. Or, more accurately, to see to it that more of them are killed than of us. Where in the Gospels does Jesus tell us to kill more of them than of us? "The military also relies heavily on recent arrivals and disadvantaged members of the population to fight our wars." Well, what's the alternative? Either a reinstitution of the draft or (God forbid!) a government whose constituents insist that it learn to be less bellicose, that at the very least it renounce the heinous preemptive strike policy that sent our soldiers to Iraq. Does the church bear no responsibility to instruct the citizens of such a government in the teachings of Jesus that will lead to a more peaceful world? "As we pray for a quick and just conclusion to these wars..." It seems a bit too convenient to launch an unjust war and then expect God to bring it to a just conclusion. Why do you not mention that the American Catholic bishops are on record as having concluded that, even if one holds to the just war doctrine, the invasion of Iraq did not meet the criteria? To quote from their statement: "Based on the facts that are known to us, we continue to find it difficult to justify the resort to war against Iraq, lacking clear and adequate evidence of an imminent attack of a grave nature." (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Statement on Iraq, November 13, 2002. http://www.usccb.org/bishops/iraq.shtml ). Again, a better reformulation of your prayer would be: Dear God, please fix what we allowed our reckless administration to get us into. I work on a campus that has a peace and justice institute. As on many "mainline" Christian campuses, such institutes are tokens, nothing more. They allow university administrators to say that the difficult teachings of Jesus are preached according to the institution's mission statement, while at the same time effectively marginalizing those teachings and ensuring that they remain unattainable ideals. I cannot even imagine our university going on record as opposing the government's policies in any significant way. Unfortunately, your editorial is strong evidence of what Marcus Borg has called "the imperial captivity of much of the church in the United States." (Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary, p. 298)
John Braun | 11/6/2007 - 8:49pm
You are right about the lack of financial commitment shown to our veterans, but that's about all you were right about. Your editorial, filled with sanctimonious platitudes, is a nearly self-evident testimony to a nearly complete misreading of the experience of our servicemen and women of the present and the past. I hope you will take at least a little time to reflect on the reality of the love of our country that motivates most of us who have served our United States.
SR MARY BERRY | 11/6/2007 - 12:55am
In reading "Thanking Our Soldiers", I am sincerely trying to find an appropriate way to thank them. While I support them as individual fellow human beings on this journey we call life on earth, I simply cannot find a way to thank them as you suggest for their sacrifice and mission. I find myself, a 54 year old Catholic striving daily to be a follower of Christ. I am also a conscientious objector to war and the preparation for war, in other words, a witness against what soldiers are trying and preparing to accomplish. I am convinced from my reading of the Gospels that one cannot achieve peace through war, or love from hate, and still imitate Christ. We all want peace, but it seems to me that we must use only the means to peace that Jesus gives to us. It is difficult trying to find the words to express my love for them even as I believe that their actions are incompatible with our Lord's new commandment to 'Love one another as I have loved you.' Yes, there is no question that the vast majority of our soldiers are brave and courageous and believe in their mission as pronounced by their superiors and government leaders, but I wonder how a follower or imitator of Christ can be enthusiastically engaged in the killing and maiming and the destruction that must occur for their mission to be carried out. I used to wonder - but have now come to believe that our Jesuit [and other Catholic] institutions that continue to offer Military [ROTC] training and even allow military recruiters on high school and college campuses is an enormous scandal to the witness of Christ. It seems to me that the church has no commission from Jesus to teach rational ethics, with its primary value of 'survival' at all costs. And currently, of course, it’s not even about survival, but making sure our lifestyles remain the status quo. And what a status quo it is! What the church should be teaching is Christian ethics, with its primary value of 'Christ-like love' of friends and enemies alike. For is it not true that any action outside of - or not compatible with - Christ like love is morally worthless? My love for our soldiers perhaps can be best exemplified by asking as many of them as I can to consider laying down their weapons and studying and participating in war no more and begin following and imitating the nonviolent messiah, Jesus Christ. I will also refer them to www.CatholicPeaceFellowship.org and the G.I. Rights hotline at 1-800-394-9544. Finally, while we celebrate Veterans Day as you suggest on November 11, let us also remember that ironically, on the same day we also celebrate the feast of another soldier, St. Martin of Tours who upon his conversion to Christ-like love renounced war and violence and in laying down his sword said: "I can no longer be a soldier of this world for now I am a soldier of Christ, it is unlawful for me to fight".

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