Signs of Peace Through Action

Observing All Veterans

by Bob Reeg, Chief Executive Officer, Peace Through Action USA

How does an organization focused on peace go about observing Veterans Day?

As the title of Tolstoy’s work of literature suggests, war is the antithesis of peace. And if it is militaries that conduct wars, service members their agents, and veterans their alums, then by extension there is formed a simplistic association between war and veterans.

Should Peace Through Action, an organization promoting peace be also then opposed to veterans? Absolutely not! On the contrary, we must lend them our support. What we can do to support veterans is encourage the widening of the lens through which the over 90 percent us who have not served in the U.S. military see the military and veteran experience so that we get a more complete picture.

Many of us have a narrow view of military service. That’s no accident as we are given only so much to learn with. The military establishment and civilian officials who authorize and govern it tend to portray the armed forces as omnipotent and overwhelming. We are presented a “warrior archetype” with heroic status around which we organize our sense of what it means to be a service member and veteran. News and entertainment media feed us stories both factional and fictional of combat troops overcoming great odds in dramatic battle scenes. Is it any wonder that an association between war and veteran exists, even though a sizable number of U.S. veterans were never deployed to an overseas combat zone or engaged in direct combat with the enemy even when deployed?

Indeed, there are bona fide heroes within the ranks of the U.S. military and veteran population. Medal of Honor recipients being prime examples. They deserve the nation’s gratitude for their service and sacrifice. It’s also their stories that us civilians hear the most. Let’s face it, it’s not such gripping drama to watch or hear about service members doing ordinary things such as procuring supplies at desk jobs, preparing food in the mess hall, transporting equipment between installations, or rehearsing with their bands.

It’s these endless ordinary activities that also are part of the military experience. And the people who do and did them have stories that matter too. And they are important to uplift if we are to enlarge, as Peace Through Action wishes, the common (and incomplete) understanding of all that service members actually do.

There are many resources available for us to learn from veterans—of all periods of service, motivations for service, occupational specialties, and other factors. Two that come to mind are the Veterans History Project and the Military Voices Initiative.

The Veterans History Project of the Library of Congress collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American veterans so that future generations may hear directly from them. The project includes a collection of audio, video, manuscripts, and photographs. Some of their collection is digitized and accessible online. The Military Voices Initiative of StoryCorps provides a platform for veterans, service members, and military families to share their stories, with recordings and animations available.

Peace Through Action encourages you to take a few moments on or around Veterans Day to listen to a story posted to these collections. You may want to dig a bit and identify a storyteller who does not match the “warrior archetype” with which you may be most familiar. Taking our call to action a step further, you could ask a veteran you know if they are willing to set a time for conversation about their military experience or to participate in a Veterans History Project or StoryCorps interview. Both storytelling projects have sample interview questions and instructions for recording and submitting veterans’ oral histories.

Returning to the original question, “How does an organization focused on peace go about observing Veterans Day?”

Short answer: This peacebuilding organization challenges those of us who have not served in the military to go wider and deeper, to get beyond the warrior archetype. Use available storytelling resources. Listen to all veterans. Because listening increases understanding. Understanding increases empathy. And empathy increases peace.

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