The Day After Veterans Day

The Day After Veterans Day November 12, 2012

Veterans Day occurred yesterday in the U.S.  It’s a federal holiday for the recognition of all veterans and coincides with the international recognition of Remembrance Armistice Day at the end of World War I.  I thought it would be appropriate to follow a day of recognition of what soldiers did in the wars with a few articles about what they do after.  Troops returning home may mark a technical cessation of hostilities, but there’s more to do to bind up the wounds of the conflict.


After Assassinations, Basque Killers Explain” (NYT):

The encounter, one of about a dozen similar meetings in the past year pairing the family members of victims with convicted terrorists, was not initially part of a formal reconciliation program. The talks began, Basque officials say, as an idea proposed by terrorists housed in a local prison, men who had turned their backs on the Basque separatist movement in recent years. The prisoners thought it was the one thing they could offer the victims of their violence: a chance, perhaps, to talk things out, to understand a little of what the separatists were thinking, to hear their remorse…

The two men spoke for more than two and a half hours, each telling his life story. Mr. García found out that, in fact, it was hard to look someone in the eyes and shoot him. In one case, the terrorist said, it was that look that had saved someone’s life. But Mr. García also found out that ETA assassins usually knew nothing about their targets. They were simply given photographs and told to kill at a certain hour. At first the job was taxing. But then killing became routine, the terrorist told him. For Mr. García, the most emotional moment was when the terrorist, now in a work-release program, said he was sorry. Mr. García said he saw that the man was profoundly ashamed for what he had done.

“That was tremendous for me,” Mr. García said. “I said I accepted his apology. But I said he needed to talk to the families he had hurt, and I told him he was, well, brave.”


Eric Lomax, World War II Prisoner Who Forgave, Dies at 93” (NYT)

Mr. Lomax was repeatedly beaten and interrogated after his captors found a radio receiver he had made from spare parts. Multiple bones were broken and water was poured into his nose and mouth. One of his constant torturers stood out: Nagase Takashi, an interpreter…

The men finally met [again] in 1993, after Mr. Lomax had read an article about Mr. Nagase’s being devastated by guilt over his treatment of one particular British soldier. Mr. Lomax realized that he was that soldier.

“When we met, Nagase greeted me with a formal bow,” Mr. Lomax said on the Web site of the Forgiveness Project, a British group that seeks to bring together victims and perpetrators of crimes. “I took his hand and said in Japanese, ‘Good morning, Mr. Nagase, how are you?’ He was trembling and crying, and he said over and over again: ‘I am so sorry, so very sorry.’ ”

Mr. Lomax continued: “I had come with no sympathy for this man, and yet Nagase, through his complete humility, turned this around. In the days that followed we spent a lot of time together, talking and laughing.” He added, “We promised to keep in touch and have remained friends ever since.”


Atonement: A troubled Iraq veteran seeks out the family he harmed” (New Yorker, paywall)

“There is not a day or a week that goes by that I don’t think about what we went through,” Lobello said.  He seemed to be posing a kind of equivalence between him and his victims.  If this was self-serving, there was also an undeniable truth to it: of all the people in the world, no one else could better understand what had happened.

…In the Bible, Numbers 31 prescribes a purifying ritual for soldiers returned from war: a cleanse of fire and water.  American culture has no such rituals.  Instead, it has legal constructs, like the rules of engagement–printed on cards to fit in your wallet–that allow soldiers like the men in Lobello’s unit to feel that they have merely done what they should.  They are absolved even before they come home.

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  • Hi Leah, would love to have you join our segment tomorrow on religious conversion. Please email me ( if you’re interested! Thanks!

  • Dan C

    St. Basil had proscriptions on returning warriors with regard to ability to receive the sacraments. Catholicism and the Church were not always so cozy with war and its warriors.

    Some of us today are not so cozy still.

    • Ted Seeber

      Yeah, me too on that one. Still, I recognize their bravery and service. The intelligence and morality higher in the chain of command, though, especially at the tactical and strategic level, leaves much to be desired for anybody of any religion who believes that human life should be protected from conception until natural death.

      Still- wouldn’t confession be the appropriate response?

    • LeRoi

      I probably should ignore this sort of casual hostility to soldiers, but… These commenters wistfully dream of bishops banning veterans from sacraments until they have repented for policies they themselves failed to prevent; thankfully, both our political and our pastoral classes have the wit to treat us better.
      This attitude that service members have somehow been dirtied by their time was ubiquitous about 50 years ago, during the Vietnam War. Partially because of the fallout occasioned by the way vets were treated, both sides of the culture wars today separate servicemembers and veterans from the nation’s policy. As a result, instead of condemnation, tired and scarred veterans receive welcome and healing.

  • Hmmm… I thought you were going to talk about the elevated rates of domestic violence and suicide that accompanies doctors back home. Or possibly the unemployment problems veterans are facing because everyone else is afraid of PTSD.

    That said, I think this is a fantastic post, especially in the context of cleansing rituals after war.

  • TerryC

    Wars are horrible things, which is why we must never rush into them. Whenever we do however there is no way around the fact that innocent people will be hurt. I am glad to see that warriors on both sides of conflict still feel guilt when they either cross the line or cause the death or injury of the innocent. I am even more glad to know that at least some of the victims have embraced forgiveness. Very uplifting post.

  • MatthewS

    wow, that middle story poked me in the eye and made everything blurry for a minute…

  • Cordelia

    Thanks for this, Leah.

  • jenesaispas

    Wow. That’s radical forgiveness.

  • Few remember that our Veterans Day was originally Armistice Day. A note on the history [from Oh Holy Night: The Peace of 1914 ]

    On 11 November, the warring parties signed the armistice,
    bringing that great bloodbath to an end….

    The deep meaning of that armistice remained in the
    minds of World War I veterans a half century later
    when the U.S. Congress, in one of its clueless moves,
    changed the observance of the federal holiday from
    November 11th to a certain Monday of October. Memorial
    Day, Veterans Day and Washington’s Birthday
    were all moved on the calendar in order to create
    three-day federal holiday weekends.
    Because of the war that had followed that “War to
    End All Wars,” President Eisenhower had signed a
    law that broadened the meaning of “Armistice Day”
    by making it “Veterans Day” in 1954. But in the
    minds of the World War I generation, the memory of
    that armistice still held sway.

    So, in the late 1960s when Congress changed the
    date, I can still remember my grandmother adamantly
    asserting that Armistice Day was November 11th,
    NOT the fourth Monday of October. The thousands
    of soldiers who, like my grandfather, had served in
    France and other lands would not hear of such a

    … And the politicians received an earful. The World War
    I generation was still alive and well; remembering
    and speaking up. They again took back lost ground.
    The end result was that one decade after changing
    the date, Congress, in 1978, restored the observance
    to November 11th.

  • “They are absolved even before they come home.”

    Well, and what’s wrong with that?

    Of course I am not talking about acts of violence unrelated to their role as soldiers (like the American soldier who killed the Afghan family) and things like torture (e.g. waterboarding), both of which are always always wrong. But under normal circumstances, I don’t see why soldiers shouldn’t be absolved even before they come home.

    After all, soldiers don’t choose their goals, or their targets, or their methods. Barring highly unusual circumstances, soldiers are banned from defying their commanding officers, or objecting to orders. Their commanding officers make the immediate choices about who, what, when and where to attack. And of course it’s Congress that makes the choice to send them somewhere in the first place. To my mind, it’s Congress that needs the cleansing ritual, not the soldiers. Soldiers would get a lot more use out of a healing ritual.

    “Catholicism and the Church were not always so cozy with war and its warriors.”

    Oh, like the Crusades. Right, no coziness there.

    • I believe Dan is referring to Christianity pre-Constantine/pre-Augustine, depending on who you prefer to blame for the change. Before roughly 300-350 Christians generally abstained from war making, though they did pray for the success of Roman armies.

  • kalimsaki

    Here is good news for you!

    Death is not destruction, or nothingness, or annihilation; it is not cessation or extinction; it is not eternal separation, or non- existence, or a chance event; it is not authorless obliteration. Rather, it is to be discharged by the Author who is All-Wise and All-Compassionate; it is a change of abode. It is to be despatched to eternal bliss, to your true home. It is the door of union to the Intermediate Realm, which is where you will meet with ninety-nine per cent of your friends.

    From Risalei Nur collection by Said Nursi.

  • Bill

    If you have not been in a war, have not served in a combat situation, please keep your criticisms of the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines to yourself. You have no idea what price they paid, and continue to pay. You want to pin shame on somebody, pin it on the politicians and profiteers, the arms merchants and the despots. As a Viet Nam veteran, to this day when some able-bodied person my age says, “Thank you for your service” I am unable to think of anything but the question, “Where were you?” Hypocrites like our former Vice President (who said he “had better things to do” than serve in Viet Nam) make me sick.