This is my latest column for The Kingsville Observer
It came as a great honour when the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 338 in Harrow asked me to take on the role of chaplain. It seemed appropriate that I join the legion.
As the new members were led through the oath of allegiance to the sovereign, I realized I hadn’t been asked to make such a commitment since I was a Cub scout. Here’s how I remember it:
“Akela! I promise to do my best, to do my duty to God and the Queen.”
This is essentially what we ask of those who serve on our behalf. That they do their best, act honourably and represent our highest values.
In the short history of our country, our young, and not so young, our bravest, our most willing to serve, have been asked to fulfil difficult missions and go into terrible situations where they witness, and sometimes do, awful things.
Thanksgiving weekend a year ago, a young man named Kevin, who served in Afghanistan, took his own life. I don’t know what he witnessed or was required to do while he was in-country. I know from talking with his first ex-wife, who is my cousin, that things happened while he was in Afghanistan that broke him and he never healed.
Kevin gave his life not in one bloody awful moment but over time. Kevin needed help but did not receive the support he needed and deserved. His living, and his slow dying, became unbearable and he chose to end it. Before he did there was hurt and pain enough to go around, touching every person in his life. He leaves behind two ex-wives and a young child who is too young to have memories of their father.
The pain and sacrifice ended for Kevin but continues for many others.
When we ask members of our military to give their lives, all at once or a chunk at a time, we had better be sure of what we are asking. Will the mission truly serve the common good and make the world even a little better than it was?
Those who wear the uniform and serve their country are called upon to do incredibly difficult things. I have great respect and admiration for those who serve and for their families and loved ones. They all make sacrifices.
There is brokenness and evil in the world. People commit atrocities. Governments, corporations, and power-hungry individuals are capable of manipulations that turn ordinary folks against each other. Some conflicts seem to be about religious differences, or ethnic rivalries. Many are really about territory, money or power. People are whipped into frenzies by those with something to gain.
In many conflicts around the world, opposing forces use weapons and ammunition from the same factories, sold and delivered by the same arms dealers.
Different weapons, weapons of manipulation, are used to create division and stir things up to the point when the military becomes involved. We see these weapons at work every day, on the international level, but also in our own communities and even among our families and friends.
You can usually see and hear these attempts at manipulation in appeals to our self-centredness, our sense of entitlement, our fear of change and our preference for quick and simple solutions to complicated problems.
In earlier times, this was called idolatry. The false gods have many names. Here are a few:
Blind Patriotism: Our country is the best, and it’s only for us.
Selfish Consumerism: I want more stuff and don’t care what it takes to get it to me.
Xenophobia: I don’t like or trust people who are different from me.
Racism: People who are not like me are not as good as me and they scare me.
Sexism and Homophobia: Your sexual identity defines you and your value.
Elitism: What I want and need always takes priority.
Radical Individualism: You can’t tell me what to do. My rights trump the needs of others.
These manipulations appeal to our greed, pride, fears, worries, impatience and our lack of good information. They work on everybody. They work on me and you and the people we elect.
Those in uniform are trained to rely upon each other, to have each other’s backs and look out for each other. We have to make sure that while those who serve in uniform are out there, keeping watch for us, that we have their backs.
We also have to keep an eye on those with the authority to send out the troops, to make sure that only happens for valid reasons aligned with our highest ideals.
We also have to make sure that while they serve and after they come home, members of the military know we still have their backs and we will help them in meaningful ways.