A Letter to Service Men and Women

Dear Service Man or Woman,
I was in the airport a lot this week. Several times I was standing near one of you when coming off of planes, I assume coming home. From time to time they would get stopped and someone would say “Thank you for what you are doing over there.” Often this gratitude contained some phrase like “defending our freedom” or “making us safe.” I know that all these people were well meaning and were doing nothing but conveying gratitude toward our thousands of service people across the country and around the world. But something in this just rubbed me the wrong way. I still cannot put my finger on it, but I was compelled to sit down and write you this letter. 
 
 First of all, let me say that I do appreciate the work you do. The military is a great career track for many people. If it were not for the military who knows where my family would be. Four generations on one side of my family, including men and women were service people in various branches. My mothers parents were both in the military, my father’s father was in the military and both of my parents were in the Air Force as well. My family has a long tradition of service as enlisted people often in combat. I have had an ancestor fight in every major American conflict since the Civil War. So, the work you do is especially personal to me. 
 
The American military including the National Guard provide many services on a daily basis that often go unthanked and unnoticed. These services are far deeper and greater than being involved in any conflict abroad because they improve the lives of people at home. 

Secondly, it should be known now that I do not support the conflict in Iraq and I am a bit suspicious of our roles now in Afghanistan. I think that we were led to Iraq in a time of fear under the guise of a lie (or at the very least unsupported intelligence). I also think that these two conflicts go a lot deeper than 9/11 or one bad leader. I know that this is a conflict that is a long time coming due to the way we as a nation behave, that we as a nation treat other nations, and that we as a people treat other people. 

So now to the guts of this letter: 

I, as a Christian, would like to apologize for the part that I played in this war and its continuation. I wish I could apologize for all Christians, but I am hesitant to speak for all believers in Christ, especially since many believers in Christ in this country see nothing wrong or incongruent with the way they are living. I will confess to you my sins that I believe are perpetuating this war; leading to more deaths of innocent lives, combatant lives and American lives. 

1) I am addicted to gasoline. I cannot help myself. I have taken some measures in scaling back. I recently traded in my gas-guzzling American car for a more efficient import.  I have increased my fuel efficiency by 1/3, but am still addicted. I am going to be try to be more intentional about my driving. I know I am only one drop in the bucket, but maybe that one drop will be all that it takes to bring someone home. 

2) I have been part of the consumer machine that gives America the image of being uncaringly wealthy while people around the world starve. I have a new car, air conditioning set on 75, an iPod, two computers and food in my pantry from when I moved in last August. I have lived in excess. I pee into safe drinking water that so much of the world doesn’t have. I need to be more intentional about helping people with my wealth. Maybe people in the Middle East would view us differently or treat you differently if we were dropping as many micro-loans as we were bombs or drilling water wells instead of oil wells. 

3) I have demanded lower prices “at any cost.” I want cheaper coffee, cheaper clothes, cheaper shoes and cheaper food. I don’t care how they get price down, I just want it down. I turn a blind eye to the fact that this often means younger labor, worse conditions and more dangerous environments for the manufacturers. While we are getting a shirt cheaper today than we were yesterday, resentment is being created in those sweat shops among the children who are working so hard for Americas material comforts. This resentment just perpetuates the need for service men and women for generations to come to lose their lives in conflicts we have not even imagined yet. 

4) I am not as educated as I could be about my fellow man in the Middle East. I believe that fear, confusion and ignorance fuel much of American’s feelings toward people in the Middle East. People prefer to be educated on Islam by pundits rather than by scholars, thinkers or believers themselves. Many of us would rather watch extremist anchors discuss Islam than take it upon ourselves to learn from a Muslim. I should have been seeking out people of different opinions to learn from rather than further entrenching my own by listening only to people who agree with me. 

5) I have lent my support to systems of injustice by not doing my research on companies, candidates, products, organizations etc. I have either bought from these companies, voted for these people, consumed this product that trickled down to hurt other people in the world. Robert Kennedy once said that each time a man stands up for what if right he sends out a tiny ripple of hope that can sweep down the mighty walls of oppression and injustice. I believe the opposite can be true also. Each time a person doesn’t stand up for what is right, he strengthens the walls of oppression and injustice. I will commit to do my part to stop contributing to this wall. 

Like I said earlier, I am only a small drop in a bucket. But I don’t believe I am the only one who feels these things. I think that there are others who know that we only need defense when people feel the need to defend themselves against us. I believe it is a growing consensus that a world of peace cannot be maintained by oppressing our neighbors and then asking them to be our friends. 

Thank you for the work you do day in and day out. I am sorry that the bulk of the attention that you get is only for your time in combat, for that is only a small part of what you do. I pray that we all support our troops in ways other than slapping on bumper stickers. For the way to truly support our troops is to make sure they are not needed for combat in the coming generations. 

Signed, 

Coleman Yoakum 

Just one Christian 

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About coleyoakum

My name is Coleman Yoakum. I am formerly a student at Harding University. Today you can find me in Detroit Michigan doing what I can to expand the Kingdom of God and preparing to start an intentional community in Pontiac. I enjoy reading, writing, photography, music and politics. I am sure that all of these things will find their way to this blog from time to time. Twitter: coleyoakum Facebook: Coleman Yoakum Email: coleyoakum@gmail.com Flickr: flickr.com/photos/coleyoakum/

2 responses to “A Letter to Service Men and Women”

  1. Angela says :

    Excellent post, Coleman! Mind if I share it?

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