Being a Buddhist on Veteran’s Day

I’ve had several interesting conversations on Twitter and Facebook today about my discomfort with the way we celebrate Veteran’s Day here in the United States. This is exacerbated by the fact that the UNC men’s basketball team is playing their thrilling season opener against Michigan State tonight on an aircraft carrier in honor of Veteran’s Day. I’ve been looking forward to this game for months, and yet so much of the hoopla around it is wrapped in a flag and holding a gun. This really comes home when I think about how it will feel to watch this with Izzy. It’s the first time we’ll really be watching basketball together as a family, something I have anticipated since he was born just days before UNC won the national championship in 2009.

Coach Roy Williams said about this game “To me, it’s a way of honoring our military. That’s what it boils down to.” I’m left wondering if I’m still allowed to enjoy the game even though I’m pacifist. I’m not opposed to their service, but I don’t really want to honor it any more than I do teachers, civil rights activists, peace corps members, doctors without borders, and so many others that also make sacrifices to benefit the global community.

Here are some excerpts of the conversation on Facebook (Twitter has been, well, less productive):

Ruby: Trying to balance my excitement about watching UNC basketball tonight with my revulsion at the showbiz celebration of government-trained killers in the “Carrier Classic.”

Let’s just play some good basketball and try to ignore the camo-themed uniforms.
5 hours ago

D: Let’s not blame the soldiers for the decisions of their leaders.
5 hours ago

G: Thank you for this Ruby. I think it’s kind of a neat place to play a basketball game, but the military tie-in disgusts me as well, and I wasn’t sure if it was just my anti-Tar Heel bias kicking in.
5 hours ago

Ruby: D, the leaders are due a lot of blame, but anyone holding a gun has to be responsible for what comes out of it. I appreciate that many military members are trying to protect and serve the country, but there are ways to do that without violence and I don’t see national holidays and showbiz beatification of those peace corps or Americorps members, civil rights activists, teachers, community leaders, etc.*
5 hours ago

D: I can appreciate your point of view. But I also know that many young men and women coming out of high school have limited opportunities for supporting themselves and their families, and the military training, benefits and salaries can be quite an incentive for folks for whom college and other types of advanced training are out of reach for economic or academic reasons. I also believe there are just (WWII, and to a more limited degree, Afghanistan) and unjust (Iraq) wars, and that the blame for the latter rests with our elected leaders (and ourselves for supporting them) much more so than the mostly underprivileged soldiers we send off to die in them.
5 hours ago

M: Okay people. Please keep in mind who your friends are on Facebook and that what you write could strike a very sensitive chord. This subject matter is different from vaccinations and choice and occupy wall street. If you haven’t had a family member serving in the military you have no idea what you’re talking about.
4 hours ago

G: M, I understand. But I find it sorta patronizing when people tell me that because I don’t have X I can’t say Y. I appreciate the sacrifices that veterans have and continue to make, but I think we’re able to comment on whether or not we think it’s appropriate to be linking militarization with college sports without causing too much harm to society.
3 hours ago

M: G, my husband lost his right arm in Iraq and was two steps away from losing his life. His politics are generally middle to liberal, he is a well-educated thoughtful human being, and his reasons for joining the military are complex and rational. And he did carry a gun in another country and he got blown up. What you learn when you are exposed to the military culture is that his story is not uncommon. Many of the Marines I’ve met are the most loyal, generous, thoughtful, and trustworthy people I know. Often their reasons for joining the military run parallel to my reasons for becoming a doctor. As always there is something to be said for acceptance and open-mindedness. And further best be careful what you say about the military around the wife of a wounded veteran because she will lose her shit.
2 hours ago

W: A soldier’s duty, his or her discipline, is to follow orders and ship out when sent. Soldiers do not make policy, they take an oath to defend the Constitution. When policy makers circumvent the Constitution, well, we see the results. Our friend Dubya has destroyed countless lives and will never stand trial for war crimes. Support the troops. Oppose the war.

“Leadership gains authority and respect when the voiceless poor are treated fairly.” – Proverbs 29:14 (The Message)

“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” – Proverbs 29:18 (KJV)
about an hour ago

G: M I appreciate your husband’s service and sacrifice.
about an hour ago

J: I’m a Vietnam-era vet who agrees with Ruby.
57 minutes ago

M2: The more one reads and learns about the history of wars, the more apparent it is that soldiers are pawns in a dirty game of power & wealth accrual. I personally support each troop on a personal level, but to parrot that I Supprt the Troops is to acquiesce to propaganda.
52 minutes ago

Ruby: M, thanks so much for writing and not just being quietly mad at me. 🙂 You know I care about you and Jon. And I have had other friends and even family in the military.

I didn’t like Jon’s choice to join the Marines in the first place, but I don’t think any less of him for disagreeing with me. I don’t think he’s wrong for wanting to help other people through military service. What I have a problem with every day, but especially today, is when the appreciation of that service is done in a way that approches hero worship, excludes recognition of the pain of war, and also fails to recognize the wide range of ways that a person can sacrifice and serve their community.

I think the origin of Veteran’s Day is Armistice Day, which was a day celebrating the END of violence while appreciating those who served and especially those who were lost in war. I like that idea better than the big Hollywood Veteran’s Day – as we are seeing played out on the USS Carl Vinsson tonight, for example.

As a Buddhist, I just don’t believe in solving problems through violence, although I can usually make room for self defense (great article exploring this: So I am not going to get to a place of feeling “rah rah” about our troops, even though I understand that they are trying to help and are making decisions that make sense to them in their own contexts.

I respect most military service members, but I do sometimes wonder if the feeling is mutual.
12 minutes ago

* Except maybe the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

2 thoughts on “Being a Buddhist on Veteran’s Day

  1. I usually find myself better off just keeping my mouth shut on Veterans’ Day. Today, I managed pretty well. That is, until we tuned in to see the UNC game while eating dinner, and I couldn’t help myself. Erin had to put up with me singing War Pigs by Black Sabbath at the screen during the pre-game war machine infomercial.

    I can understand that there were moments in history where a military response was appropriate due to circumstances that were no fault of our own. And I can appreciate that many people who sign up for the military honestly believe they are providing a service to humanity, or were drafted into combat through no choice of their own.

    But until we begin to treat teachers and social workers and peace corps volunteers with the same gratitude, and until we can dispense with the nationalistic bullshit that accompanies it, I can’t in good conscience celebrate people in uniform any differently. At least Veterans’ Day exists to remind me to stop and reflect on how strange it is that humanity has advanced so far but can’t stop engaging in senseless murder and misappropriating so much of its wealth away from the common good.

  2. Ruby, on Friday, I responded to your Tweet where you characterized the women and men of the USS Carl Vinson in a way that I found sad and I also said that I was not surprised. You responded to my comment and then I asked a question that you said insulted you. I specifically asked you what religion had to do with my reaction to your unfortunate characterization. How did that insult you?

    For the sake of history, in November 1918, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day. The day’s observation included parades and public gatherings, as well as a brief pause in business activities at 11 a.m. On November 11, 1921, an unidentified American soldier killed in the war was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.; the U.S. Congress had declared the day a legal federal holiday in honor of all those who participated in the war. On the same day, unidentified soldiers were laid to rest at Westminster Abbey in London and at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

    In 1954 the 83rd U.S. Congress amended the 1938 act that had made Armistice Day a holiday, striking the word “Armistice” in favor of “Veterans.” President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the legislation on June 1, 1954. From then on, November 11 became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.

    I am still sad that you fel it necessary to think of our women and men in service the way you do and I hope that all who share your faith are not similarily inclined; many of those whom I know don’t.

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