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10 Things I've Learned From Veterans and War Objectors

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1. In the 1960s and 1970s, Canadian Quakers housed and supported a large number of conscientious objectors in Canada. It allowed people like my dad to live, and eventually settle, here when he came up from California during the Vietnam War. It later meant that I briefly had a place to stay in Vancouver when I started going to university out West. It's a spirit of generosity that I admire.

2. I have thought about the value of joining the army from time to time in my life. The rigid structure, the physical routine, the feeling of being part of something greater. I would totally do it, too, if it weren't for the part about killing people.

3. There is so much nuance to war and the military. I wish there had been more intervention in Rwanda, but at the same time I'm leery of one country interfering in another country's autonomy. I would have fought against the Nazis, but not in Iraq. I am a pacifist, but it becomes harder to defend when I believe that a war is 'just.' Nothing is black or white.

4. People who I have met who have really been through wars rarely talk about them. Folks I know who have seen terrible things in Korea, Vietnam, or Somalia; older people who lived through the Holocaust or were in concentration camps. How do you glorify such a traumatic and horrific experience?

5. The other day, a veteran took a long time getting off the bus. He was angling his wheelchair, and a couple of waiting passengers were getting irritated. He came out through the front door, and sat near the ramp, making it difficult to get into the bus. I tried to help him move the chair, and he snapped at me. For a second, I was irritated too. In Canada and in the USA, we have so little support for our veterans. We ask people to give their lives or their physical or mental health so that we can have the conveniences and, yes, freedoms here that we take for granted. Then, these emotionally and physically scarred veterans come home and can't reintegrate into society, and we don't do much to help. "Hey, thanks for fighting over there. Now can you please move your wheelchair? I have to get to my Pilates class."

6. I don't think you can know what it is like to make a decision until you have had to make that decision yourself. I don't know what it would be like to pull the trigger of a gun and take a life. I don't know what it would be like to flee my country as a refugee or a political dissident.

7. When you hear a war veteran speak and you realize that they are only a teenager, you know there is something very wrong with our world.

8. People who have fought in wars are either pro-war (because if they weren't, why were they risking their lives?) or anti-war (because being in a war would make most people not too into violence). I'd like to think that most people want peace, but I know that some definitely do not.

9. A lot of draft dodgers are into poetry and jazz music. Must be a generational thing.

10. On November 11, I think about my dad who risked everything to stand up for his beliefs. I think about people I've known who have fought, either literally or metaphorically, for what they believe is right. It's heroic to stand up and fight for something that you believe in when you are facing adversity. Even if I disagree, I still respect it.

Josh blogs about the many things he has learned and continues to learn at tenthingsivelearned.com.

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