Sen. John McCain will be releasing his medical records soon, and this has occasioned lots of public debate about his fitness for the office of president. This is an important discussion, especially since we now know much more about the long-term mental and emotional effects of the brutality of war. After World War I, soldiers who came home mentally disturbed were called “shell shocked.” Studies have shown that many veterans of World War II continued to show signs of mental and emotional stress 40 years after the war ended. It took almost a decade after the end of the Vietnam war for the American Psychiatric Association to define the diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Today’s Iraq and Afghanistan veterans will need years of support and counseling in order to cope with the horrors they saw in combat.
This Memorial Day, if we have the courage to do it, we can begin building a public policy that finds ways to manage our competition with other countries and ideologies without brutalizing our young people in the process. With new leadership in Washington, and the the support of masses of American citizens, we can and must learn to honor those who protect our country by preventing conflict and who save our lives by not wasting them in wars without end. There may be times when violence is necessary, but we should do everything possible to avoid war. We can’t maintain a fearful, aggressive attitude without damaging our culture in the process.
This Memorial Day, when we pray for the veterans and soldiers currently on active duty, let us also pray for our leaders that they may have the wisdom to envision a future that doesn’t require the sacrificing of our children.