You know those plastic ribbons you see on the backs of some cars? Usually they're yellow or camouflage-patterned and say, "We support our troops."
I sometimes fantasize about pulling them off and replacing them with ones that say, "Support our troops - bring them home." I long to do this because, though most of them do come home, 20-30% of them come back traumatized, suffering, and suicidal by what they've seen and done, according to a heart-piercing piece in this week's New Yorker, The Return: The traumatized veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.
I will never pull one of those ribbons off a car because it would be disrespectful. The ribbons are placed there by people who have a brother or sister, son or daughter, or parent fighting. They are all suffering as it is. My urge to do so comes from frustration with our inability to learn that war seldom seems to solve conflict.
William Kowalski has written a marvellous fictional account of the suffering of a soldier that makes a good companion piece to the New Yorker article, treating in fiction the fact that we are quick to send young people to war and very slow at helping them when they return. The Hundred Hearts tells the story of Jeremy Merkin, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan who suffers from PTSD and how he just might heal. It tells the story of his father, Al, a Vietnam veteran who also did not return whole from war.
Learning what I have from these accounts makes it harder to see how our politicians and military leaders can justify how Canada has turned its back on its peacekeeping traditions for their current war-making stance. Noah Richler, in What We Talk About When We Talk About War, takes this on.