The Way of BeautyReflections on Veterans Day

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November 11th belongs to the veterans of our armed forced and their families.  In other part of the world, especially in Europe, it is Armistice Day or Remembrance Day.  At the 11th hour of the 11th month of 1918, the Armistice with Germany went into effect thereby ending major hostilities of World War I.  The signing took place in a railroad carriage at Compiègne, France.

In 1954, the United States changed the name to the current Veterans Day with appropriate ceremonies, but it is not to be confused with Memorial Day when the nation honors those who died in battle for their country.  

Artistic Depictions of War 

In this country, some war movies have consistently received high ratings for their artistic depictions: "Fighting Sullivans," "The Longest Day," "The Battle of Britain," and "Saving Private Ryan," to name a few. The television series Downton Abbey vividly depicts how World War I forever changed life in Britain.  No artistic depiction however can ever capture the true measure of war.

Ravages of War

The cost of war staggers the mind. In World War I, 9 million combatants and 7 million civilians lost their lives.  The number of fatalities in World War II is much higher, estimated at between 50- and 80 million combatant deaths.  The higher number includes those who died from disease and famine.  Between 50- and 55 million civilians died.  About 19- to 28 million were related to disease and famine.  'No more war' is the cry of every generation.

Forgotten Heroes

How many priests were killed in the World Wars is still an open question, but they numbers in the thousands.  In France, clergy were required to serve in war alongside their fellow Frenchmen.  World War I took the life of the French Jesuit, Father Pierre Rousselot, S.J., a brilliant theologian writing in the field of dogmatic theology.  He was only thirty-seven.  

In 1914, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. was also required to serve in the war and did so as a stretcher-bearer.  For his valor, he received several citations, including the French Médaille Militaire and the Legion of Honour.  During this time, he developed many of his thoughts in his letters, which he penned to his cousin Marguerite Teilhard-Chambon.  She later edited them and had them published under the title, "Genesis of a Thought."

During World Wars I and II, thousands of priests and other clergymen ministered to the wounded and dying in Asia and in Europe, regardless of the side on which the combatants fought.

Military Dogs 

Dogs are chosen by humans for a variety of reasons: for play and companionship, for safety, as guides for the homebound, for sporting or herding.  Working dogs have traditionally been chosen for their bravery whether their protection is focused on people, places, or livestock. Instinctively, dogs give their utmost loyalty to their masters, especially in military situations or as companions that help in healing our veterans.  

At the outbreak of World War I, dogs were used to pull carts of milk and other perishables.  Belgians used dogs to pull their large guns on wheeled carriages and supplies or reportedly even the wounded in their carts.  Dogs were often used to carry messages in battle, a task that required the dog to be loyal to two masters instead of one.

Thousands of canines have been trained at the dog training school in Fort Benning, Georgia.  The most common breeds to serve in police-type operations are the German Shepherd, the Dutch Shepherd, and the Belgian Malinois. It is reported that, as of 2011 at least 600 U.S. military dogs were actively participating in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, including a Belgian Malinois who stood with the Navy Seals in the raid of Osama bin Laden's compound. It is said that "no breed of mammal is so diverse as the one that has gained the title of man's best friend." 

The Theater of War:  What Ancient Greek Tragedies Can Teach Us Today

Much has been written about veterans: their experience after war, suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Veterans are prone to higher risk for other disorders such as drug and alcohol abuse, and mental illness.  These problems affect both male and female veterans, and they richly deserve their benefits, not the least of which is rehabilitation of body, mind, and spirit.  

Recently the theater director Brian Doerries published a personal account of an innovative public health project that produces ancient Greek tragedies to restore mental health and healing to those affected by war.  Cynicism about war is giving way to healing veterans who have never come to terms with their wounds, however expressed.

More in The Way of Beauty

The Theater of War:  What Ancient Greek Tragedies Can Teach Us Today has won high praise for its power to bring the wisdom of the Ancient Classics to the broken lives of veterans, returning soldiers, addicts, tornado and hurricane survivors, and others.  To date, Theater of War Productions has presented over 300 performances of Sophocles' plays for wounded warriors struggling under the weight of psychological and physical injuries.  The plays help to restore their dignity, identity, and honor.  The project "is a testament both to the enduring power of the classics and to the vital role art can play in our communal understanding of war and suffering."  The shared pain helps veterans validate the truth of what they have suffered whether it's physical debility, sense of isolation and loss.

Today Americans thank our veterans for their unstinting service whether or not they have served in active duty.  They gave themselves for their country. In return, we must care enough to give them our very best.

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