Interesting historical combo platter for me (and my family) this morning to get up and see the Veteran’s Day headlines next to the headlines announcing Yasser Arafat’s death.
My father was a 28-year Marine Corps veteran, and his last combat tour was in Beirut in 1982, when he served as Executive Officer of the 32nd Marine Amphibious Unit, and was part of U.S. Ambassador Philip Habib’s negotiating team of American, French, Italian and Lebanese military leaders and diplomats.
Two of the key figures in the 1982 conflict in Beirut were Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon, both of whom my father sat at negotiating tables with, and both of whom he considered to be butchers. I think if you had told him (or anyone, really) in 1982 that 22 years later the key conflict in and around Lebanon and Israel would still be featuring Sharon and Arafat in key positions, he would have scoffed, since they both seemed to be so irreparably politically damaged by the events unfolding in Lebanon at the time.
There’s a very good book (that my father was interviewed for and appears in) about Philip Habib and Lebanon in 1982 called Cursed is the Peacemaker by John Boykin. Recommended reading. I also have on my coffee table at home a beautful picture book about Lebanon signed, with a personal note to me, by Bashir Gemayal, President of Lebanon, hoping that this small token would help foster relations between our countries. He was assassinated a few days after he signed it and gave it to my dad.
And I guess I should note what I was doing at the time too: I was slogging through my plebe year at the Naval Academy, under a fair amount of physical and emotional strain just caused by the day to day activities associated with the training there, but also by having to get up every morning to pick up the newspapers and make sure that my father hadn’t been killed the day before. I didn’t share that with many people there at the time, as I would have to listen to my classmates and upper class going on and on about the events there in didactic, strident, Machiavellian/realpolitik terms, while I had a bit more of a personal stake in (and often knowledge of) the things that they were Monday morning quarterbacking.
I also have a deep understanding of and appreciation for what active duty military families are going through today as they watch the country unveil its annual public display of appreciation for the military and those who have served and are serving in it. For military families, though, particularly those with loved ones in harm’s way, every day is Veteran’s Day. Those of you who have never had to check the papers for combat casualty lists every morning might want to ponder that point today as part of your Veteran’s Day observance, and then keep it in mind the other 364 days of the year as well.