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Remembrance; Veteran’s Day is complicated…*

November 9, 2014

November.Poppies w flanders poem Conscious of and indebted to the efforts of veterans worldwide – I remember.

An American expat living in Ireland, in matters of politics I have pacifist leanings. I am, however, untroubled by a passion for honouring the military and sacrifices made on my behalf. Generations of sacrifices.

American veterans, British veterans, Canadian, German, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Israeli and Arab veterans, I make no distinction. Every one was called upon by his or her motherland to serve.

Service. Few of those who served or died had a say in the arguments, feuds and passions that led to the conflicts. Some followed reprehensible orders, all faced circumstances I have not. I respect their service, even when not in service to my ideals.

On the eleventh day of the eleventh month at the eleventh hour every year, I am proud to say that I have thought of, prayed and cried for the sacrifices of all veterans. Perhaps due to my age or the fact that I am an American of Irish and Italian descent who is Jewish, my mind goes first to the soldiers who liberated the concentration camps. Beyond the dangers they faced in their war efforts up until that day, most took to their graves the horror of what they witnessed, and it was only in its aftermath.

My uncle was an Italian soldier who spent most of WWII in a Russian POW camp. Was his sacrifice less noble or costly because the leadership of his homeland chose the “other” side? I know an Israeli veteran whose service in the Lebanon war haunts him to this day. You get my point: Veteran’s day is complicated.

I never thought that before, it was driven home by an effort in 2010 to obtain a small red poppy for a British expat in the states. I lived in Carlingford, on the border with Northern Ireland, the UK.  I assumed that in my travels I would be able to make a donation and pick up this token of remembrance known all over the British Isles.

Not so. “Ah sure, but you wouldn’t want to be trying to find that.”  “No lass, we wouldn’t be wearing that around here.” “You’re brave to be asking for one of those.”

I have learned to challenge that response. 50,000 Irish soldiers died in WWI and many now serve with UN peacekeepers. I am sorry for the legacy of the British occupation. I try to be sensitive to both sides.

That said, I am outraged by the intolerance and disrespect of the young men and women who serve their homelands, anywhere. Especially here.

Whether in victory or defeat we must celebrate the gift of the lives veterans and their families have given. That gift is literally our present.

I have a US homeland, thanks to brave grandparents who emigrated. Ireland is now home.

  • My Irish forbearers were driven out by the policies of the British. Can I hold that against a British soldier now in service to causes I support?
  • The Irish government generously regards this grandchild born abroad, a citizen. It’s soldiers serve bravely with UN peacekeeping troops worldwide. Can I blame an Irish soldier for the Republic’s neutrality in the face of genocide during WWII?
  • The genocide that left my Jewish children deprived of extended families that exist no longer? Here as a Jew I am pilloried as an extension of the Israeli occupation. I have no connection to Israel, but should I disdain the service of her young?
  • Jews trapped in European homelands 70 years ago were dependent upon and betrayed by soldiers in whose armies many had served. Later they were grateful to the soldiers of other homelands who liberated them.

Whose soldiers and what sacrifices would you have me forget?

*This is an edited version of a post which originally appeared in November 2010. It was followed by another on the objections of some to observance of Remembrance Day in Northern Ireland schools.

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