Although you’d never know it, the holiday we celebrate as Veterans Day began as a day for “thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations,” according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Not anymore. Today is a day for glittering generalities and conflation of Christian love with trigger-pulling.
Even my own church got in on the fun, declaring this Wednesday’s service a “Special Veteran’s Day Eucharist:”
On Wednesday, November 11th the 7:00 am and noon services will commemorate the service our veterans have given to our country. …All are invited for special prayers and thanksgiving devoted to the courageous persons that have made our country a place of freedom, justice, and peace.
Now, aside from my theological hangups about a Christian church cheering on militarism, this also happens to have the extra bonus of being blatant propaganda. This statement must refer to some platonic ideal of the U.S. military. It manages at once to ignore a great many crimes committed under the war flag against freedom, justice, and peace and to place all the accomplishments of every social movement in the lap of the military. Were the members of the U.S. military under General Winfield Scott who participated in the Nunna daul Isunyi involved in making our country a place of freedom, justice, and peace? I’m sure a few of my ancestors might be somewhat surprised to learn that little bit of history.
Of course, there are many things to celebrate about military life: discipline, self-sacrifice, etc. Those are things Christians and the anti-war movement could learn from our brothers and sisters in the military. The danger is that we focus on those things to the exclusion of the flip-side of military life: demonizing enemies, violence, killing. When we do this, we run the risk of baptizing radically anti-Christian behavior and transforming troops into Paschal lambs.
This is not meant to be an attack on the members of the military. It is, however, a reminder that military service is not a Christian vocation. Veterans are not saints. Military service is not holy. Killing someone through a night scope is not love of neighbor. Veterans need special pastoral care due to the nature of their experiences–fine. Many people want to thank veterans for allowing their hands to remain clean even though they don’t subscribe to Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence–understandable. Veterans need our love, just as every person does–and they should have it. But I’ve sat in a room where priests called war “sin,” right next to the “sins” necessary for women to maintain their reproductive rights. Will next Sunday be Abortion Sunday? Any guesses?
The point is that, even if you think war is a “necessary” evil, we don’t hold Eucharists to celebrate “necessary” evils. The Eucharistic prayer celebrates the Man of Perfect Love, the nonviolent Jesus of Nazareth. Is it too much to ask that we not bow and scrape to the sword of Caesar at the table of the Kingdom of God?