Today is Army day; a day set aside to honor the sacrifice of those who put on the uniform and paid the most expensive price as they laid their lives and gave of themselves in order to serve their nation. Army day was conceived on May 1st, 1928 as a response to May day but was thereafter changed to April 6th in 1929 to commemorate the entry of the United States into World War I. Army day does not just honor active duty soldiers and veterans of the United States army; Army day is a tribute to all who serve and who opted to give sweat, blood and tears to the nation they adore.
There is a vast difference between honoring veterans and glorifying wars. It has been my greatest privilege and an honor bestowed from above for me to keep running into veterans throughout my life. My own father was a veteran of the Ethiopian navy who fell in love with America when he took part in the naval exchange program between the Ethiopian and United States navy in the 1960’s. Both my grandfathers and my grandmother were war heroes during World War II who paid a dear price in order to repel the fascist Mussolini army–they answered the call when Il Duce started raining mustard gas on Ethiopian villages.
There is a reason I have such an admiration and respect for those who put on the uniform; my own family and my lineage all the way back to Emperor Tewodros II is full of war heroes and once soldiers. I myself was supposed to go to West Point until my youthful rebellion and foolishness closed the door to a life of being an Army officer. These used to be my greatest of regret, passing up the chance to serve along honorable men and concurrently breaking my father’s heart and shattering his dreams for me–until an Army Ranger two years ago told me the wisest of words.
When I told him what I recounted above, about my family tree, my affinity for veterans and my regret of not serving, he paused in reflection and said “your foolishness was God’s providence, you might not be here today if things went the other way”. In that instant, a veteran stilled my sadness and imbued me with a sense of purpose. He said that there is a greater army beyond the military and that is the army that calls soldiers those who fight for love. This is when I realized that the greatest soldier is not the one who shoots bullets but the one who gives love. The greatest warriors are those who defend freedom but have the wisdom and the benevolence to give grace and love to mankind.
I’ve learned this lesson over and over again over the past two years as a life of indigence and a bout of homelessness instilled in my heart the true notion of service. Who I have ran into state after state are veterans who struggle in homelessness and hopelessness yet in spite of their circumstances still have the love within them to give to others. I remember this moment with clarity when I was walking the streets of Greenville, South Carolina. My pockets empty and my stomach even emptier, I was hoping against hope for some random blessing but too full of pride to ask for help. It was the most fantastical thing; as I was walking down Main Street all the sudden a hulking fellow with an army veteran hat came up to me and gave me a bag and walked away.
This man did not speak nor did he explain his actions–he just gave and melted into the crowd. When I peered into the bag, I saw it was full of freshly bought burritos from Moe’s. Let me pause here and explain what the true notion of charity is apart from the pseudo-charity that is given by way too many corporations. What this veteran did with his kindness as he bestowed upon me nourishment for the evening is what authentic charity is about. It is not charity when you give of your least; true charity is when you give of your best. Those who give out of motivation to claim tax credits and give left-overs or what customers don’t want are not engaging in kindness–they are just being slick and inflating their good will through cunning gifting.
“Consider this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each one should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not out of regret or compulsion.” ~ 2 Corinthians 9:6
The veteran who gave to me without so much as saying hello was the most cheerful of givers. He did not stick around to bask in his kindness nor did he boast so others could recognize his charity. I detail more of my experiences with the angels that were sent to me by way of veterans in this article Silent Salute (LINK). He gave and walked away and in this process showed the truest essence of God that is within all of us if we choose to find the love that resides in our hearts. Veterans know about this kind of giving and kindness for their loyalty to each other and their love towards their fellow soldier was formed by a trial of fire.
Our characters are formed during the darkest moments and there is no darker moment in life than the hell that is unleashed during wars. When the bullets are flying and all about is horror, all you have in that moment of inferno is the brother or sister next to you. All lines disappear as color, gender, orientation, religion and the endless ways we divide ourselves and let powerful people splinter us gets washed away. The fox hole is the greatest equalizer in the world; you learn to depend on those who are in the same mound of dirt with you and realize–in the midst of life’s greatest tribulation–that to love your neighbor is to love yourself.
If only we were led by the likes of the veteran who once gave to me during my time of distress while I was meandering on Main Street in Greenville. Instead, honorable soldiers are too often pushed to the sidelines and relegated to billboards as cunning profiteers and beguiling corporate suits use the memory and honor of soldiers as a means of inflating their bottom and top lines. It really has come to this: patriotism for the people; profiteering for the powerful. This is why there are countless veterans who shiver in homelessness and stack city corners with signs asking for donations while those who never served a day in their lives are the same ones who are calling for wars and leveraging patriotism to paint themselves as loyal Americans.
We are straying far from decency as a nation as we let a bunch of plutocrats and corporate alternative humans bleed the entire globe in the name of profits all along painting over their deeds as that of defending democracy. Eisenhower warned a long time ago about the dangers and excesses of the military-industrial complex; what he warned off pales in comparison to the beast we have let our country become as the military-financial complex has hijacked our government and turned the 50 states into franchises in their corporate agenda. So thoroughly have we become conditioned to accept corporatism that we are letting every aspect of our lives become billboards for corporate brands and logos.
There is a price to be paid for this type of avarice for crony capitalism depends on creating scarcity in a world of abundance and thrives as long as there are perpetual conflicts. In order to hide this truth, corporate interests have gobbled up not only our government but also the “fourth estate” and turned both politicians and media personalities into the mouthpieces of the corporate agenda. This is how we were deceived as a people into voting for an empty suit that was Obama and now have a juvenile septuagenarian dunce Trump as president of the United States–both craven toadies and stooges of the global corporate agenda who never served anything beyond their egos.
Perhaps we are just getting the government we deserve because we refuse to be civil towards one another and instead are intent on conquering each other. Instead of realizing that we are in this together and that our plight is the same as that of the next man and woman, we choose to bash each other with rhetorical violence as if we are a nation of toddlers. But to what end? Hate can’t conquer hate anymore than can ignorance enlighten the ignorant. Why can’t we just be kind to one another and, if we are to take on injustice, realize that injustice is coming from a few who lord over the rest of us instead of aiming sideways at fellow victims of this plutocrat scheme to enslave all of us to their wallets and their malicious benevolence.
I had the honor of meeting Larry a few days ago; a veteran of the Vietnam war era who served honorably in South Korea–which to this day is still considered a conflict zone. The same way that an unnamed veteran gave to me in Greenville two years ago, Larry did the same as he invited me to the local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) hall in Fort Collins. It was the most somber moment for me as he showed me around the building and showed me one picture and memorial after another dedicated to the fallen and to P.O.W.s who gave of themselves. In the poem below, I wrote how the ones who survive wars are the ones who bear the cost of compliance the most. I got to witness this yet again face to face as stories of survival and struggle broke my heart and coaxed tears from my eyes.The drip of one tear led to a stream when Larry reached into his pocket and gave me a veteran pin I proudly wear on my lapel (pictured above). There are no regrets in life and all makes sense in time; the opportunities I shuttered when I was 17 as I missed my chance to attend West Point was replaced by the times I worked at the Pentagon and at Fort Belvoir during my time as a defense consultant in DC. While my stance against wars could not be any more clear and I rebuke all conflicts as a blemish on humanity–this world has enough abundance for all of us if we choose not to be guided by greed–I want to make it crystal clear that my objection to war should not be interpreted as a statement against those who serve.
In fact, this article is meant to advocate on behalf of veterans and to speak for those I should have stood shoulder to shoulder with if life had turned out different. Our bankrupt congress keeps funding weapons programs that our own military leaders keep saying they don’t need because politicians on both sides of the isle are feeding cash by way of defense programs to their defense industry corporations like Boeing, Booz Allen Hamilton, and Northrop Grumman. I myself not too long ago was making six figures working at the Pentagon as a consultant while those who served in battle were making a third of what I was earning while sitting in air conditioned offices. This is an outrage; we are using the suffering and pains of veterans as a means to inflate the wallets of billionaires only to ignore the very vets we thank with yellow ribbons. Slogans and logos are empty if we don’t follow our words with deeds; if we cut out just one multi-billion dollar weapons system, we can take care of all homeless veterans. Let that last sentence really sink in.
So on this day, as politicians talk out of the side of their mouth, as the duplicity media broadcasts pictures of war heroes as they ignore war veterans who reside on pavements, and our vacuous president reads teleprompters pretending to care about soldiers, let us look past these empty souls and embrace the true heroes who are the veterans who live and work among us and with us. Stop worshiping the rich and famous, their interests do not intersect with ours for their fortunes were gained at the cost of the many who suffer in indigence. Instead look to veterans as the shinning example of service to nation. Patriotism is not about slogans, patriotism is about love and giving to others. #TenHutVets
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.” ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower
If you liked this article and think more should be made aware of the service of our veterans and understand the hustle of politicians and plutocrats who use the suffering of veterans to chase votes and inflate their wallets, share this article on social media using #TenHutVets
There is a reason I used the quote of Eisenhower above; those who serve in the horror of war know best the horror of the machines that feed wars. Listen to the sage wisdom of General Eisenhower.
Instead of war, maybe more of us need to be about love. Ten hut LOVE!
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Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.