Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The People in Those "Boots on the Ground"

This past week the President has been making speeches about Syria and as of now we are awaiting a vote by Congress (at some point) to determine our next course of action. The President has "assured" the American public that any intervention would not include "boots on the ground." I have often heard politicians and news anchors use the term this week. I have also heard people on the street interviewed repeat the term. It is not a new phrase but I am not fond of it at all. I believe, actually, it is an inappropriate term.

The problem is that there are people in those “boots on the ground.” There are sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, and sisters and brothers in those boots.  Using that phrase is an interesting phenomenon. It seems to me that too often when people make use of the term, it becomes a little easier to forget that living and breathing persons are in those boots. And that is a huge mistake.

I grew up in the 1960s and 70s, during the Vietnam War era. I remember vividly knowing that my Uncle Bill, my Dad's big brother, served there along with tens of thousands of other young men (and many women in largely support roles). My uncle was in the Air Force and he planned bombing runs, but he was located in an area that was often attacked. We anxiously watched the nightly TV reports, but his immediate family was even more anxious about it than we were. He was one of those "boots on the ground" persons in a very trying time.

My Mother told me stories about her two older brothers, Emory, who served in the Navy during World War II, and Jay, who served in the Navy in the late 1950s. Uncle Emory was on a battleship. They were often in harm’s way. She was extremely proud of her brothers' military service. They wore "boots on the seas" proudly.

And I have a friend, from my first church where I served as a pastor, who is married to a helicopter pilot who has served several tours in Afghanistan. His family worries for him while he is deployed and they keep the home going while he is serving our country as a proud "boots in the air" kind of guy.

I have a friend from college whose daughter, Amanda, has been in the Army’s Military Police for 13 years. She is typically on military bases in the US but has also served several tours in Iraq. She has been in precarious situations dealing with domestic abuse, violent crimes, and regular run of the mill stuff that happened on base that needed attention BUT she has also dealt with the danger of attacks in combat zones. She is one of those persons who are in those "boots on the ground."

So when people say the phrase "boots on the ground" I think of these men and women. When people say that phrase they are making it easier to forget the people who wear those boots. And I do not want to forget them.

Any language that dehumanizes or reduces the possibility that we think of the people first is not ok with me. And it should not be ok with our leaders or by us. It should not be used in any way that makes them less human or fails to acknowledge their existence.

The people attacked in Syria by gas are people, too. They are not nameless, faceless bodies to those who loved them. They are not collateral damage or unintended consequences or any other dehumanizing language.

As a pacifist, I am praying for peace. I am praying for a resolution that does not endanger our troops – the men and women in those boots on the ground. I am praying for the innocent people of Syria who have become pawns in a deadly game of power. I am praying for the UN to be the force for international peace and justice that it is intended to be. I am praying for the people - because they matter. They matter to God, they matter to us, and they matter as members of the human community.

They matter … They all matter.

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