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Veterans Day a time to learn lessons from past

Nov. 07, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

Veterans Day is Sunday. Our everyday lives move on at their ordinary paces, and sometimes we forget that our veterans deserve our heartfelt thanks for making our nation a bastion of democracy.

On our summer travels in Europe, we gained knowledge of people, places, art, food and language, but the most salient thing we relearned involved war and the human sacrifices it requires. War is sometimes necessary, but it should never be undertaken lightly because of the lasting loss for so many people.

Two poignant stops on our journey, one at the Bridge at Remagen in Germany and the other at the American Cemetery in Luxembourg, reminded us of the lessons we should have learned from past wars.

It was a beautiful late summer day when we visited the Bridge at Remagen, famously described in former West Virginia Congressman Ken Heckler's well-known 1957 book by the same title. The sun was shining on the Rhine River, which lapped quietly at the shore where groups of young people were playing.

It's hard to imagine that in the early spring of 1945 this was the site of a fierce battle between Nazi and American forces for a German railroad bridge over the Rhine. Only the great stone towers of the bridge remain; one set of them is used as a museum to record the horrible death and destruction at this site.

Walking the grounds of the American cemetery in Luxembourg was a sobering experience. The rows of White Crosses and Stars of David with the names and dates of each American soldier's death from the Battle of the Bulge in the winter of 1944-45 remind us of these brave young soldiers who gave their lives for their country.

Americans weren't initially desirous of fighting in World War II, but as the Nazis overran Eastern Europe, conquered France, began to bomb England and the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, we realized there wasn't much choice. England and resistance leaders in other countries begged us to help them survive.

And we did. We knew why we were fighting and sending young Americans in harm's way. In Luxembourg our tour leader, who was a small child during "The War," which is how most people of that generation refer to it, emotionally thanked the visiting Americans for saving his country.

That made me question whether there is any hope that Iraq and Afghanistan will ever appreciate the human and fiscal sacrifices we have made there. I hope I am wrong, but something tells me the answer is "no."

A Vietnam vet, also touring the Luxembourg Cemetery, remarked that what he learned in Vietnam was that if America was ever again going to make the kind of sacrifices war demands, then it should be either because we truly want to win the war or because the country we are defending really wants us to be there.

Our wars today have come about for totally different reasons. Now we aim to bring about "regime change" or help get rid of unfriendly totalitarian governments in parts of the world that clamor for "democracy" but have no history of supporting it.

War memorials remind us of death and destruction and veterans' sacrifices. This is a good weekend to thank our veterans and their families for their service to our country.

But we also must understand when we should go to war. Some days it appears that we have not learned the lessons we should have gained from past wars.

Diane W. Mufson is a licensed psychologist. She is a former citizen member of The Herald-Dispatch editorial board and a regular contributor to The Herald-Dispatch editorial page. Her email is dwmufson@comcast.net.



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