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11.11.2011

Armistice Day - Poppy Day - Veterans Day. Thank you all.

I grew up in Canada until the age of 21. I was a young boy during the Vietnam war and it didn't really come into my radar. We had no guns in our house and even though we were a political family there was never any talk about "the right to bear arms" (a singularly American debate). My brother served in the navy and my father harkened back often to his fellow veterans of WWII. None of that prepared me for the level of patriotism and military tradition in the United States.

I arrived in America, a brand new citizen with passport in hand, in the summer of 1979. Six months after my arrival President Carter was considering a military draft for young men to serve in Afghanistan. It meant I would have to register and possibly go to war. I was a newly minted American with nothing at stake in this. I was primarily a pacifist and strongly against military intervention. I was facing a moral dilemma larger than I ever had before. If I didn't want to serve then I should catch the next bus home and leave America for the Americans to defend. On the other hand, I came here looking for all the privileges that American society had to offer. Should I expect it comes at no cost? Would I feel better about serving after I reaped many benefits from my new country? If the answer was yes, then maybe I was being tested by having to pay my dues up front. If the answer was no, then what the hell was I doing here in the first place. What then is the measure of myself if I was willing to takes the rewards and shirks the cost? As a dual citizen my family history goes back to the 1830's in the US on my mother's side. I have cousins and aunts and uncles across this land. It was only geography, I argued with myself, that I was born a few scant miles north of an arbitrary line.

So I stayed, scared to death of the idea of going to war but not willing to run away. In the end was never required to register and we didn't go to war with the Soviet. Years and years have passed since then and I've gone through contortions on my mixed feelings about military service and patriotism. I've been very uncomfortable having to express and declare patriotism, feeling it was self aggrandizing, while I've served my country and community in many nonmilitary ways. I spent a great deal of time over the years arguing against the military complex while not really understanding the nature of the soldier and veteran in America.

On 9-11 2001, 22 years later, I knew in one horrific moment that I was an American in heart and soul. I was outraged, crushed and sickened, and felt personally violated by the terrorist attack. I visited my Canadian home that winter and the disdain my siblings and friends poured out about arrogant American society and our 'deserved' retaliation from the Middle East for this and that and the other thing cut me to the bone. It physically hurt. They might as well have called me a leper and cast me into the snow.

In the past decade I have paid more attention to the men and women who serve our country and learned a lot. A humbling lot. A lot of respect for the complexity of how and why they serve, the lives of veterans, and the powerful role they play in the American heart and spirit.

All of which brings me to today when I sat the 3 boys down at 10 o'clock to tell them about military service, Armistice Day, and the importance of honoring those who have served. I took them to the town celebration where we heard a couple of speeches, prayers and a 150 year old cannon go off. They were respectful and quiet through the whole 45 minutes (even Doc - which was the big surprise) even though the cold wind through the trees kept us from hearing almost all of it except the cannon. I'm sure we'll talk about these things again. My views, while still evolving, are much more nuanced than ever before and I hope as time goes by the boys will pick up on that.

Thank you, on this Veterans Day, to all the men and women who serve and have served our country, for your willingness to work so hard for so little at such personal cost. You have my respect and support.