I had a wonderful conversation yesterday with a woman who is committed to UUism but sometimes feels awkward in UU circles because she is a member of a military family and is sensitive to the mixed feelings we UUs tend to have about military actions and personnel.
Recently, I think I told you, a local incident of violence at a festival nearby alerted me to the fact that in this area we have no services for returning vets, particularly for returning vets with disabilities, including PTSD. There are limited services on the mainland and 40 miles north at the Navy Airbase, but they are time-consuming and expensive to get to.
And there is nothing for relatives other than spouses and children. In the case of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, we have very young soldiers coming home maimed, permanently disabled, with severe PTSD, and their only personal resource is their parents. These parents have nothing provided for them in the way of resources or services. They have to fend for themselves and are lucky if they know something about the social services system and can find help that way.
We Unitarian Universalists deplore war, we are kind of a semi-peace church, we say we support our troops, but most of us don't do a darned thing to show our support. We have peace vigils and wave banners and speak out against the war, but what do we do to demonstrate our humanitarian concern for our own young people who are victims of war?
Talking with my friend yesterday helped me clarify in my own mind that we UUs need to be welcoming not just to sexual minorities and people of color but also to our military personnel. Our men and women in the armed forces have a huge job to do, protecting our country and coming to the rescue in natural disasters.
They have been mis-assigned, in my opinion, to the Iraq war, but their contract with their country and their employer (the civilian authorities who direct the armed forces) demands that they go where they're sent. If they refuse, out of their misgivings about the rightness of the assignment, they are severely punished. Some can afford to do this, if they have no dependents and a strong sense of self. Most are trapped and whether or not they think what they're assigned to do is right, they have family responsibilities that take priority over their personal ethics.
This is an untenable psychological place to be. People who are in this position have to reinforce their defenses against one side or the other, in order to survive psychically. Our warriors, to survive, must side with the forces that feed their families, even though they may hate what they have to do and recognize that they are being damaged by their work.
It's not easy to take the moral high ground when one's family is in the mix. It's easy for us to blame the military for torture or war or other violence, but we are dependent on our warriors to defend us when danger comes. And they do defend us, regardless of our attitudes toward them.
I've been thinking about this for several weeks now and I got to wondering about what might be offered out there by UU congregations, so I put out an inquiry on the UU ministers' chat line, asking what they were doing in their congregations.
The first time I put it out there, the responses basically mentioned what the VA was doing in various parts of the country. That wasn't what I'd asked, so I put it out again, and though the responses this time were more appropriate, it didn't look like anybody was doing much.
The heartening thing was that it seemed to start a conversation about the misperception of our military folks that UUs hate the military. Since we do nothing to counteract this misperception, it's not surprising that we have this reputation.
I'm hopeful that my congregation's efforts to reach out to the families and vets on the island will help my friend to feel more connected, less marginalized. I think it's a terrible shame that she and her friends and family have felt this separation. And I think we need to do something to change it.