November 12th, 2012 | Opinion

Forum: Veterans Day

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Photo by Michael Dorausch/Creative Commons.

This Veterans Day, Yalies reflect on themes of service and sacrifice. Read their reflections in today’s News’ Forum.

Katharine Spooner, Guest Columnist | Freshman in Timothy Dwight College

Yesterday was a special day for the British and Commonwealth armed forces. Nov. 11 is the annual Remembrance Day for those who sacrificed their lives while serving their country. The nation observes a two-minute silence as Big Ben strikes at 11 o’clock. It marks the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month — the anniversary of the 1918 Armistice.

Yesterday was no different. Her Majesty The Queen led the tribute at the Cenotaph at Whitehall as the red flash of poppies dotted the military parade. Church services up and down the United Kingdom commenced, just as they have since George V initiated the first Remembrance Day in 1919.

As I scrolled through the BBC website over Sunday brunch, reading the Remembrance Day coverage, I was reminded of the camaraderie and solidarity of the country on such occasions: elderly WWII veterans standing shoulder-to-shoulder with civilians, children laying scarlet wreaths on war memorials. Generations connected. Leaders of the opposing political parties came together, too. Cameron stood next to Miliband, and far away from home, under the blazing Afghan sun, soldiers shared a poignant moment as the last post sounded.

A few years ago, I visited the Western Front, now a haven of gates, memorials and cemeteries. At the edge of Flanders Field, in the rebuilt town of Ypres, the poppies still grow. No one who fought in those trenches now lives, but the poppy’s symbolism remains raw.

In 100 years time, these Remembrance Day ceremonies will not have ceased. Already, we remember the fallen of Afghanistan in the same way we do the soldiers of two world wars. War will not end. The Western Front may have been reduced to annals and monuments along the Maginot Line, but a frontline remains.

The brilliant red poppies that grew upon the battlefields of 1918 will continue to represent future generations. They will still be worn each year, not to glorify war, but to remember the personal sacrifices made for us.

We will not forget, not least because the armed forces still sacrifice.

Leah Sarna, Guest Columnist | Junior in Pierson College

For the longest time I have been wracked with guilt over the following question: what is it, exactly, that makes my life so valuable such that a soldier might give her life for me, but I will never reciprocate? How do I justify this imbalance enough to live with it every single day?

Over time, I have come to believe that the soldier and I pursue a mutual goal with our lives — and that goal is larger than “Leah’s wellbeing.” We both aim, or ought aim, to protect the security, freedom and prosperity of our families, neighbors and fellow citizens. Right now, I work towards this objective through hours of community service, providing crucial services, dignity and freedoms to the homeless individuals of New Haven. Through my academic work I stock up on potential, preparing for future impact. Others serve in schools or government. Some manufacture, market and sell goods and technology.

The non-military methods of pursuit, obviously, do not involve the same elements of danger. Yet I firmly believe that the military could not fulfill its aims without us. One cannot protect the wellbeing of citizens if those citizens have no wellbeing — if there were nothing to protect.

On Veterans Day, though, I think that we civilians need to take a moment to reflect: Are we doing our part? Have we created a civilian life worth protecting with the lives of our countrymen and women? If not, let us redouble our efforts, recommit and refocus. We owe it to ourselves and to them.

Dhruv Aggarwal, Guest Columnist | Freshman in Jonathan Edwards College

In the midst of the 1982 Falklands War, the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, hailed and reviled as the Iron Lady, did something other than coordinate battle plans. She wrote letters. They were to the mothers of soldiers who had died in the conflict, expressing her empathy as a mother to two children.

Mrs. Thatcher’s gesture is just one example that war is more than tank battles and regiments trying to outflank and outgun each other. It is a delicate interplay of human emotions, mostly loss. In the midst of all this suffering, the fact that a few could volunteer to step forward and willingly face the harshest of conditions and the direst of possible predicaments is testament to their character.

Veterans Day reminds us of the very human, transient nature of life – that for all the pomp and ceremony of war, the blood that it spills is all too human. And that the sweat, tears and toil that go into warfare are those of ordinary men and women, made extraordinary by chance and fate.

So this Veterans Day, seven decades after VE Day, six after Korea, four after Vietnam and zero after Iraq and Afghanistan, let us not celebrate war. Let us instead celebrate the innate calling that drives men and women to sacrifice life and all for country. Let us celebrate that, as Nathan Hale said, we have but one life to give for our country, but a few brave souls venture to put them on the line in their pursuit of duty.