and it is appropriate because there is something about those who give up some of their freedoms and potentially put themselves at risk of life and limb on behalf of the ideal of this nation.
Some may have served involuntarily in the days when we still had conscription.
Others, like me, volunteered, even if we might have objected strongly to the military conflict of our era as I did to Vietnam. I volunteered for the Marines because I thought it was wrong that others who were not of the middle class background from which I came had to serve and I did not.
I saw no combat. I was never at risk of life and limb. My military service is not particularly distinguished.
I accept the recognition given those of us who served.
But I want us also even on this day not to forget others -
Those who put themselves at risk of life and liberty to protest our involvement in military adventurism, including that of Vietnam, and of so many conflicts since then.
Please bear with me while I attempt to explain.
I do not diminish the cost of military service nor do I in any way wish to dishonor those who have served. There are those I knew in the Marines who died, or who returned from 'Nam wounded in body, mind, soul and/or spirit.
But there are also those who put themselves on the line to convince this nation that what we were doing in Vietnam was wrong.
Some refused induction and were forced to flee the country or go to prison when they were refused alternative service.
Some who performed alternative service were placed in as demeaning a setting as their draft boards could find - I think of a friend from Haverford College who spent 2 years cleaning out bedpans at Norristown State Hospital. Although if that was intended to break his spirit, it did not. As he said to me at the end of that time, those hospitalized there were also fellow human beings.
I think of one of the most honorable men I have ever met. Roger is a Quaker who takes his non-participation so seriously that he has lived life at the margins, never earning enough to owe income taxes that help support the military-industrial complex. He is now in his 80s.
There were those that took symbolic actions, sometimes dying in the process. Norman Morrison was a Quaker who set himself on fire in the parking lot of the Pentagon in 1965 to protest Vietnam. Remember that Buddhist monks had sparked protests again the Dinh regime in Vietnam because one of them sat quietly while his acolytes burned him alive.
Others blocked troop trains, or destroyed draft records by pouring their own blood on them.
Those who opposed the war did not oppose the troops. At Netroots Nation in Pittsburgh, one of the first through the line to pack boxes for the troop was Tim Lange, our own Meteor Blades, who had opposed Vietnam in our young years and who opposed Iraq in our own time.
People had different reasons for opposing military action, but that does not mean that we dishonored those who chose to serve.
In the time of Vietnam we were finally able to persuade the nation that if we were old enough to kill and die on behalf of this nation, we were old enough to vote for the politicians who were deciding to send us to war and the voting age was lowered to 18.
The war whose armistice we commemorate today at times a brutal slaughter. Trench warfare, third man on a match, over the top, attacks of poison gas, frontal assaults against machine guns. The world thought it had learned, but less than three decades later was engaged in a conflagration that was far more violent and destructive, as the ingenuity of man had so improved military technology: it was now possible to kill more than 100,000 civilians in an evening by firebombing, or in an instant by nuclear bombing.
We as a nation have only partially learned the lessons of war that should be part of this day's commemorations.
Yes, we should honor those who died in service.
Yes, we should honor those among us who did serve, but not just on this day - with jobs, retraining, medical care.
We should also, always, honor those who honorably attempt to prevent wars.
I have told this before. One of the men who has had a great influence on my own life through is writing was a Russian monk who spent World War II living in a cave on Mount Athos in Northern Greece. He heard rumors and tales of a great war raging in Europe. He prayed that the less evil side might win.
the less evil side - war may at times be necessary, but it inevitably involves evil.
We renamed our military in the 1940s, after the Second World War. Before the Army was in the Department of War. Since then it has been, along with its sister services, in the Department of Defense.
We as a nation have every right to use force to defend ourselves. That requires trained and equipped personnel, and we should honor those who put themselves at risk to provide that defense.
At times we must act beyond defense in the narrowest definition: we defend those who cannot defend themselves, we intervene to prevent small conflicts from spreading into borader conflagrations, we act preemptively to prevent greater violence.
But always, we should remember that in war innocents will die, people will be killed or broken, communities may be shattered.
It is Veterans Day. We honor those who serve. As a veteran I accept your thanks for my service.
As a Veteran, as a human being who knows war inevitably involves evil, I choose this day also to remember those who seek to prevent or stop war wherever possible.
War should never be a first resort.
It may be necessary.
Hopefully most who serve, who then become the veterans we honor, we be able to look back at their own service as a means of preventing war and destruction.