The struggle continues on many fronts
By Mark Harris
I write this on a patriotic holiday once reserved for Union Civil War veterans, later expanded to American vets of all wars, though in Virginia they extend it to Confederate dead. At Native powwows the veterans bring the colors in on grand entry, honoring the fallen who died defending their ancestral homeland, those Natives who fought defending the country that took their ancestral homeland, those indigenous who fought to defend their homelands against America and those who live on, preserving a free country for those yet to be born. While I may not agree with their reasoning, I can honor the concept of laying down your life in service to a higher purpose and memorializing that.
I am a maroon veteran of a different sort of war, a liberation struggle for the soul, and I mean this in the African sense, not the theological. I remember some of the fallen who died before their time, particularly those who are not generally remembered in these patriotic celebrations because they neither bore arms, nor wore uniforms.
In the wars on poverty, drugs or terrorism, the first casualty is often truth. A war on poverty actually increases the numbers of the poor. A war on drugs actually increases addictions of all kinds. Militarism is the addiction where if you have a heartbeat, you are a target, even if you wear a uniform. Military training creates a condition where it makes it easier to kill because you sever your connection to your soul’s human compassion even for yourself or loved ones. Devotion to duty doesn’t fill this hole. Patriotism doesn’t fill this hole. Placing flags on graves and then rushing to buy more things before the long weekend is over doesn’t fill this hole.
The Lieutenant, as I called him, claimed to be a vet; I believed him. You could see the ravages of the wars (poverty, drugs, terrorism) in his face. His face told a story about what happens when you place human beings under conditions where they regularly see or do things that assault humanity. Where the only way they are trained to deal with it is suppress it addictively. A number of vets and officers, honorably and dishonorably discharged, have been students of mine, many training to be addictions workers. All of them said that the military essentially tolerates substance abuse and addiction as long as you perform your duties. If you don’t perform or if you mouth off to the wrong person as The Lieutenant did: dishonorable discharge without treatment — ineligible for benefits because of that dishonorable discharge. And even if you have an honorable discharge and can reasonably say your addiction was service related, the official policy is to ignore it. I gave him a mission: to be able to record the stories in faces of homeless people through his art, thus creating a form of peace. The Lieutenant died violently in our town, a casualty of war. The struggle continues.
Mark Harris is an instructor and substance abuse prevention coordinator at LCC.