This is a little story about my experience talking with a veteran some years ago and how that changed my mind about what it means to be a soldier. Dedicated to every soldier in the World. You have my respect. 🌺
My mother was, for many years, rector of the D-80 Nursing School of the Red Cross. That building in my hometown between the roads ”1ro de Mayo” and “San Juan”, of French architecture, with wooden floors, tiled hall, marble stairs and windows, doors and high ceilings with baroque mouldings has been almost a second home for me. Mom used to go to work there when I was still a newborn baby and she would always take me with her, where I stayed in a bassinet by her desk.
Years passed, the school moved to a building in similar conditions and I often visited my mother.
Among the staff, there was a lifeguard (volunteer in catastrophes). I was 12 years old when my mother introduced me to this man. She told me: “Paola, he’s Daniel, he’s a veteran soldier from the Malvinas/Falklands war, would you like to talk to him?” I, without really knowing my calling as a journalist at the time, very enthusiastically accepted without hesitation.
That turned out to be my first interview, in mom’s office talking to a war veteran. From the popular culture that was perceived in the environment of my country, from the politics of those years, even from what was experienced in schools, with marches, hymns, patriotism and nationalism, I, like so many others, thought at the time that only the soldiers of my country were considered heroes and that I was not allowed to see heroism in other soldiers, since they were, or still are, our enemies.
I asked tough questions in a very naïve way, and that kind hero answered each of them in the best way he could do to a 12-year-old girl.
I remember very clearly my last question, “How does it feel to be in the middle of battle, to know that you have to act harshly?” That moment changed everything for me. He could not answer immediately, but in his eyes I read a thousand answers and I saw how he was looking for a way to respond to me in some way which was not so raw. In those eyes, which I can still picture right now, 18 years later, I not only saw words but feelings and painful memories.
My opinion regarding soldiers, nationalism, and patriotism changed completely after that brief talk of no more than 15 minutes.
I thought that a soldier is or should be a person with a brave heart, with sensitivity and strength. A human being who can feel fear and weaknesses, but with enough courage and desire to do the right thing to defend a dream, to defend a treasure. What can be considered a dream or a treasure? I asked myself; maybe fighting for the injustices that other human beings generate, fighting to preserve the peace of a place and giving children the possibility of something as simple as a normal life, going to school, returning home and having time to be “children”, defending civilians from the madness of tyrants and their followers to devastate everything in their sick obsession with power. I don’t know, something like that.
That talk instilled in me a strange and deep desire to become a soldier, or to at least be able to assist as a journalist. Maybe discover in my own flesh and blood the answer which that soldier could not express to me with words, perhaps to discover that not always the soldiers must fight against tyrants and, sometimes, by decision of a few leaders, they must face each other. A human being in front of another human being, each one with their own history, with a dream to keep safe, with fear and courage, with weaknesses and strengths. And behind them, families that suffer from far away the absence and the uncertainty, who fight with their heart and soul through any distance.
Since then, these thoughts have earned me a lot of criticism, incomprehension and even insults. Because after that day I could not think again that patriotism and nationalism are the same thing, that only the Argentine soldier is the real hero. Homeland to me is the love of the community, of a country for its land and its inhabitants. Nationalism is unfounded fanaticism.
Each soldier projects him/herself and flourishes in his/her vocation, with effort and commitment to that dream which motivated him to become a soldier.
For 18 years, in my eyes a good soldier has had no nationality but only patriotism, love for his community and his land. I can only see men and women with a brave, warm heart, capable of feeling love, empathy, insecurity and fear, valour and courage to overcome their fears and tackle the world head on in their vocation and commitment. A soldier, a veteran, should ALWAYS be honoured, loved and respected, because being a soldier is not any profession, it is the commitment of those who have a heart of gold and the blood of the brave….