Sunday, November 11, 2007

Veteran's Day

Two scenes on my mind:

The first, this week, at an employee awards banquet at work. I was there to commemorate 15 years working for the tribe. I was glad to see Sue F, with whom I went through blackjack training those 15 years ago. We worked together until a few years ago, when she transferred over to our sister casino. Sue and I each have three daughters; her oldest daughter is a year older than my Shelagh.

Sue's daughter was a distance runner through high school. After graduation she joined the Marines, and was eventually stationed in Okinawa. I guess time passes, because Sue told me that Jana had married, completed her tour, and been home for a year, only to be recalled. She and her husband had both been recalled. The husband was already "over there" as Sue said, and Jana was waiting for her orders; she knew she was going "over there" as well.

Sue can force a smile as well as any veteran casino dealer, but her eyes looked worried and weary. She said the word "recalled" with no surprise. Everyone knows that nobody gets to just finish their tour and go home anymore.

The second scene was nearly a year ago, at a candidates' night before the 2006 election. The forum was sponsored by a group of early childhood educators; the invited guests were the candidates for State House and State Senator. Although the organizers has cleared the date with the candidates' office, it turned out to be in conflict with a Right To Life dinner, so none of the Republican candidates came in person.

The person representing David Palsrok, our state house representative, seemed to speak for his boss quite capably. He knew his candidate's stand on this and that and he cited Palsrok's voting record on a number of issues.

Towards the end of the forum, Dean Robb threw out a curve ball by asking about the candidates' stand on the Iraq war. The moderator reminded Dean that this was a forum about early childhood issues. "Well we can talk all night about what we'd like to do for kids," Dean reasoned, "but if the war has bankrupted us, all this talk won't amount to a thing.

"Fair enough!" The moderator then asked each candidate to comment on how the war was affecting Michigan.

I can't remember the other candidates' responses. But I'll never forget Palsrok's guy:

"The candidate and I have never discussed this issue."

I think now that Americans live in two different worlds. In my world, there are pictures of soldiers on the locker doors in the break room. Coworkers are deployed, and hopefully come home again. A former coworker got hit with an IED and died after a couple of months in the burn clinic in Texas. The people that play at my tables are also thinking about the war, having served them selves, or having loved ones who are "over there".

The wall at school displays second graders' writing samples, finishing the prompt "If I were President I would....." A goodly portion of them end that thought "....I would end the war." Second graders can discuss the war.

I suppose there are circles where people never have to "discuss this issue". I have chewed over that moment at the candidates' forum for this whole year, thinking of all the things I could have said. Even second graders discuss the issue. How the hell do you avoid discussing the issue?

How about if this Veteran's Day we don't just go through the motions of "honoring our troops", but if we actually discuss this war in the way our Constitution intended?

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