St. Stephen’s Day Reflections on War

Our home is near a community living center for elderly veterans, so we went there for Christmas services yesterday morning. My family and I were almost the only people not using wheelchairs. To sing “Silent Night” with so many people in the December of their lives had a transcendant sweetness, and also inspired some reflection on how different the experience of war was for the generation in the room versus my own.

In World War II, every American was aware of the war every day. Even if one never bought war bonds or collected rubber and tin scraps, the rationing, wage freezes and other privations were omnipresent. The most painful privation of all was the millions of people separated from their families, either for years or for eternity, by the war.

How many Americans paused on Christmas to reflect on the tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers who woke up in Kandahar or Baghdad while their children were still sleeping in New York or St. Louis or Boise? How much privation has been experienced by the 98% of American families who have not had members deployed?

The country isn’t at war, only the military is. Two percent of the population carries the burden and the rest of the country pitches in by accepting tax cuts with equanimity.

When I think about Jonathan’s powerful post asking how we can ignore the horrors being endured by the people of the Congo, my reaction is that if we are capable of ignoring the suffering of our heroic fellow citizens so easily, ignoring the suffering of people from other countries is really no problem at all.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

4 thoughts on “St. Stephen’s Day Reflections on War”

  1. I can't watch the videos of soldiers surprising their families, especially their kids, with a holiday visit; the overflowing joy speaks too strongly of the anguish that has preceded it.

  2. "The country isn’t at war, only the military is."

    A good reason to reinstate the draft without exemptions. In creating the "professional" "volunteer" (but increasingly mercenary) army we distanced it from the lives of most citizens, and that has proven to be a moral failing on our part.

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