I don’t support war, so let’s be clear about that from the start.
I was raised in the Mennonite Church, which is pacifist.
There is no contradiction in these two sentences.
Mennonites have been tarred and feathered, assaulted, ostracized and imprisoned in war time in the United States and Canada for refusing to bear arms.
But they carried a far heavier burden very, very few of us are willing to lift: their brothers.
Mennonites in the U.S. and Canada served as ambulance drivers and stretcher bearers during wars past, to show that while they would not support war — nor the taxes that helped fuel it — they would go right to the battlefront for their beliefs.
And they did not do this to save souls, or preach.
They volunteered to clean up blood in hospitals, nurse the wounded, and soothe the dying, because it was the morally right thing to do.
Mennonites show me that service to one’s neighbor can always be in peace, so I am grateful for their example.
It’s an example I learned early in childhood. Although I’m not a member of the Mennonite church — because, frankly, I knew I could not live up to its standards — my entire life has been guided by its values.
Then I was sent to cover the Afghanistan war as a journalist (not embedded, BTW), and was almost killed in an alleged al Qaeda attack.
I was saved by the U.S. Special Forces; underwent surgery by military surgeons in four countries; and enjoyed some of the best medical care from some of America’s best surgeons, nurses, medics and more. (Sorry, I was unconscious for most of it, so if I’ve missed anyone, you know who you are; please accept my gratitude-for-life.)
Now, I can honestly say some of my best friends are men whose lives have been devoted to war. And the families who love them; waited and worried for them; and know their post-war trauma.
There is no contradiction between my gratitude for peace and my gratitude for the men and women who go to war.
Like my Mennonite friends, I am grateful that if the nation calls us to war, someone goes, on my behalf.
I am grateful for the pacifists who oppose war, and remind us of its costs.
I know its costs only too well, so I am grateful, every second of every day, for those in uniform with weapons we all paid for. (With our taxes, we are complicit in war, no matter how much we whine about Washington.)
So thank you to the veterans from WWII and Korea I met while volunteering in the VA Nursing Home in San Francisco, while studying to be a rehabilitation counselor.
Thank you to the veterans from Vietnam, the “first” Gulf War (remember that?), Iraq and Afghanistan I met while interning at Swords to Plowshares in San Francisco, and later working as a rehabilitation counselor at the Department of Rehabilitation in that city.
Thanks, especially, to the unknown men and women in uniform, who climbed out of their cold bunks in the dark, to stand outdoors in the wintry desert, when a helicopter landed at Bagram air base, Afghanistan, with my near-dead body.
You answered the call for blood to save me.
You stood for hours in the dark and cold, waiting to save the life of a Canadian civilian you had not met.
This, I still find astonishing.
It has upended all my notions of war and peace, and for this, I am always, always grateful.
If you were involved in the saving of my life in any way, in any one of those four countries, please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. I want to thank you personally, and I would like to know your name. “Thanks” is such a small word.
With gratitude, Kathleen