I actually started writing this post prior to the tentative agreement between the U.S., Russia and Syria and the possible international oversight and potential destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons – I also started writing this prior to the U.N.’s declaration that Syria used chemical weapons in an attack against its own people. I’m not sure if this post is relevent or not, any more, but decided to continue with it, regardless.
When I was a little girl, my dad would sometimes take me with him to pick up donuts for our family. Back then, the town I grew up in had a local bakery – Bud’s Donuts – instead of the Dunkin Donuts there now. I wasn’t a huge fan of donuts as a child so I generally went to make sure my dad remembered my cranberry muffin so I didn’t have to face an abomination like a sprinkle or jelly donut, but one of my more distinct memories is the old men who populated Bud’s in the early morning. At least, at six, eight and ten years of age, they seemed old to me (and they probably were) – proper grandpa-looking men in plaid shirts and overalls, their faces deeply lined, hats flaunting their membership to the Veterans of Foreign Wars or the Eagles. Some of them smoked, of course, and their cigarette smoke would mix with the steam from their styrafoam cups of coffee and the sugared morning smell of the bakery. They were like almost every old man I knew back then, from my grandfather to my great-uncles to the men who sang in our church choir. Of course, they were World War II veterans. At the 4th of July and Christmas parades they walked down our main street tossing dum-dum suckers by the handful, and more than one of their organizations awarded me scholarships to college.
I grew up with men like these – distant with their children, less so with their grandchildren – solid providers, strong of character. Many of them passed their sense of service onto their sons so men like my dad joined the service just in time for the Vietnam War. If you followed my other blog at all, you’ve heard me write about the influence growing up under a former Marine and Vietnam Veteran, but I’m not here to write about that today, at least, not as directly as I have an the past.
The combination of growing up in a small town Northern Michigan, with a strong family history of military service, has left me with an embarrassingly strong patriotic streak. Honestly, I didn’t realize quite how uncool it is to be so pro-U.S.A. until I entered a graduate M.F.A. program less than a year after 9/11 and realized how many of my fellow students were completely against going to war with Iraq. Don’t get me wrong – I found George Bush an incredibly difficult president to support, and I don’t think at the time I supported our invasion of Iraq, but the disdain many of my held for service men and women, and the U.S. as well, shocked me. I tended to keep pretty quiet, about the faith I had in our miliary, and the overarching belief I still hold to this day, that America stands for something, to myself.
It’s a tricky thing, certainly, to figure out what conflicts we should involve ourselves in, and which we should leave alone. When I opened up the paper a few weeks ago and saw the front-page pictures of little children gassed to death in a chemical weapons attack, though, every iota of my being thought the U.S. should intervene. Why Syria and not the many other places across the world involved in civil warfare? I don’t know – perhaps it was mostly a gut reaction to seeing little girls Grace’s age gassed to death before their lives even truly began, but if I’m being entirely honest, I also experienced a really raw reaction to the coverage, thinking if the U.S. won’t do something, then who will? I like to think that one of the reasons my grandfather and great uncles served in World War II, and my father served in Vietnam, is because America still stands for the beliefs it was founded upon, and when blatant genocide occurs, we do something.
I was completely behind a targeted attack on Syria, and honestly shocked by how any of my fellow citizens didn’t support such action. I kept thinking, if my government suddenly turned against us and committed similar atrocities, we would want other countries to act – to come to our aid – and not just feel like the world had turned its back on us completely. I’ll never forget reading accounts of the Bosnian War, and how people kept waiting and waiting for the U.S.A. to help – I’ve read similar accounts from survivors of World War II, who couldn’t believe it took us as long to act as it did.
But I also understand how war-weary our country is, and I will readily admit that the circles I run in haven’t been as overtly affected by our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – I only second-handedly know people who have actually been involved in the war, and I certainly didn’t have the heart-wrenching experience of seeing my son or brother sent off to war. I also don’t have to deal with the aftermath of a loved one returning from the war, physically or mentally (or both) compromised. I empathize with the communities throughout our country who are war-weary and life-weary and simply not ready to enter another war when across the nation our expenses our up, our salaries are down, high unemployment rates still linger and the feeling that the middle class is disappearing can’t be shaken.
It breaks my heart, though. I watch my daughter do the simplest, innocent acts – like singing “rain rain” go away to the news while her father and I watch the flood coverage in Colorado, hoping my brother is somewhere safe and sound in all of that mess (he was), or asking for extra kisses when she’s had a hard day, and I know that my experience with motherhood is no different the billions of mothers around the world, caring for their young children. It is at once by the grace of God and the fortune of living as part of the middle class in the western world that means I worry about my daughter somewhat less than other moms do – gang rapes on crowded public transportation, the cruelty of female castration as part of a culture, being considered less than simply because she was born female – I don’t worry about these things when it comes to Grace nearly as much as I do peanut allergies, princess saturation, table manners and kindness.
If my facebook feed is anything to go by, a lot of people think the U.S. is broken, and before we make any further messes abroad we should work on nation building here at home. But from where I sit, which admittedly is a more privileged seat than many, the rest of the world is more broken than we are. I wish we could work on our problems here, but still not turn a blind eye to Syria.
Currently, it seems like all sides are compromising – I hate how President Obama’s decision to back away from striking Syria “destroys his credibility” when so many people in our country were against him making such a call. I have no idea how this will eventually end up (if I did, think of the money I could make!) but I have always believed, and will continue to believe, in my country, and the idea that it stands up for things greater than the sum of its parts, like justice and equality and democracy, and those things are worth fighting for abroad now as much as they were when my grandfather and father served.