By the time I graduated high school, I had attended 8 different schools–4 elementary schools, 3 middle schools, and 1 high school. This is par for the course for military kids.
Today is Veteran’s Day. I can immediately think of 4 people in my family who served in the military for at least 20 years, including my grandfather and my father. My grandfather passed away 8 years ago, and my father walked out of my life 4 years ago. Nevertheless, I am thinking about them today.
I have complicated and mixed feelings about this day (and not just because it conjures memories of beloved men in my life who are now gone). On the one hand, I am grateful for the many experiences I had as a military kid. I think those experiences shaped me into a person who is aware of the bigness and diversity of the world, who faces change and adapts quickly, who is sensitive to “new kids” and outcasts, and who creates home wherever I go.
And yet, as I evolve and develop intellectually and politically, I am acutely aware of the imperialist function of the U.S. military and the ways my family has participated in that for generations. More disconcerting, still, is the realization that this complicity has been chiefly motivated by lack of economic opportunity. Both my grandfather and father come from big families and small towns. The military was a way out.
I do not think the men in my family joined the military out of love for country and desire to “serve and defend our freedom”. I have literally never heard my father say those words. My grandfather was quite patriotic but also the fiercest critic of American racism and classism. (How very James Baldwin of him!)
So what does it mean to honor veterans today when “serving our country” has often had devastating effects on other parts of the world? How do I grapple with my deep appreciation for the ways the military created a safe and stable life for my family alongside my deep rejection of the economic inequality that made enlisting look like the best choice in the first place? How do I appropriately respect the hard choices and challenges veterans have faced while rejecting this militaristic empire?
I really don’t know.