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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Monday, November 12, 2001

Island Voices
Wars, peace — and still more veterans

By Keith Haugen
U.S. Army veteran, local entertainer, writer and educator

We Americans are a religious people. For the most part, we are not deeply religious like those we think of as "fanatics," but we are religious nonetheless.

Our country was founded on a belief in God. It shows up everywhere, from "In God We Trust" as our motto, to Irving Berlin's "God Bless America," currently one of the most popular songs in our country.

When we were attacked on Sept. 11, our citizens flocked to churches everywhere.

Yet, we are a warring people, and, whether we like to admit it or not, the two seem somehow to tie together. As incongruous as it may seem, many of the great wars of the world were fought over religious differences. Historically, the same churches that preach peace have led the battles. Remember the Crusades?

We talk of peace, we pray for peace, and our whole concept of Christianity is based on a concept of peace. It is reiterated so well each Christmas when we bring it to the fore.

In our hearts, however, we see things differently. And, at the slightest provocation, we are ready to take up arms and fight. We'll fight for what is ours; and we'll fight to help others protect what is theirs. It's the American way. War seems more natural to us than does that elusive dream called peace. After all, the world has never been at peace, and we always have at least 20 to 30 wars ongoing.

We know that wars take lives — both warriors and innocents — but we are ready to accept that, and we go to war, again and again and again. Occasionally, wars settle differences. Always, wars take lives, destroy families, make heroes, expand cemeteries, and increase the number of widows, orphans ... and veterans.

We honor our veterans, those who died and those who survived. Those who were wounded and those who didn't even see combat. They are all warriors who demonstrated their willingness by donning the uniform of their country and putting their own desires second to the good of all.

The mentality of our country is one of military might: Be prepared!

It is easier to get our Congress to approve billions of dollars for a war machine than to fix the educational system. In fact, it is easier to get congressional approval for our invasions of other countries (Haiti, Cuba, Panama, all right here at home, or Iraq, and now Afghanistan) than it is to get our courts to give permission to pray in schools.

It is easier to get funding for foreign aid, military aid, arms for other countries all over the world — often including both sides in a dispute to which we are not a partner — than to address our needs for health or housing, and the millions of Americans who are struggling just to stay alive.

Since we became a nation, we've had some 42 million men and women in military uniform during times of war, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. We've lost 650,953 U.S. fighting men and women in battle deaths and another 500,000 in "other deaths" during those war periods.

In more than 200 years of America's wars, our men and women have suffered more than 1.4 million non-mortal wounds.

We have nearly 19 million living war veterans among the 25 million veterans who represent all of our branches of military service. That means that about four of every five U.S. veterans alive today served during wartime, one of every five in times that we call "peace." We have huge organizations for the men and women who served their country: the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled Veterans, Military Order of the Purple Heart, even some that tie the wars to their religion, like the Catholic War Veterans and the Jewish War Veterans Association.

Let's look at our wars. Although our nation is still relatively young, we've had so many wars that most Americans can't even name them, or remember when they took place. As we celebrate our veterans today, we should remind ourselves of the price we have paid and continue to pay for freedom and for "going to war."

And now we are at war again. Our men and women in the unformed services are being deployed to foreign lands once again, to fight an enemy they cannot see, would not be able to identify if they met face to face, but who threatens our way of live and whatever hopes we have that our world will someday live in peace.

This time, it is very different. We are all in harm's way, military and civilian alike. This new enemy makes no distinction. And this war, like World War II, began with the loss of American lives — "thousands of them."  We're fighting mad, and we're doing something about it. We're fighting!

On Veterans Days in the future, we will undoubtedly have a new batch of combat veterans to salute, and new "battle deaths" to reckon with. It seems never to end.