Ever since I was five years old, every adult would talk to me about the two most important dates in recent Lebanese history: November 22 and August 1st. There are of course other dates of equal importance in the country’s history as a whole, but those two are the ones that stuck in my head until today.
Starting with the most obvious, November 22nd is known in Lebanon as Independence Day. You could call it our 4th of July if you want. Indeed, on November 22, 1943, Lebanon was officially declared as an independent State from the French Mandate that governed the country from 1920 until that day. Following that special day, the country went through a steady period of prosperity and growth, despite the Arabo-Israeli tensions that started in 1948 and were taking place just a few kilometers south of this young Republic. Lebanon got to the point it was even nicknamed “Switzerland of the Middle East” (سويسرا الشرق in Arabic), for the beauty of its nature, the development of its society and the importance the country played from the perspective of international trade, by connecting the West to the East.
As the transition from the French Mandate was taking place, another important date came to light for this young nation. On August 1, 1945, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF for short) were placed under full authority of the Lebanese National Government; this day is commemorated annually as Lebanese Army Day. Until this day, August 1st is a date considered almost as important as November 22nd, particularly for everything that the army has had to endure since the last French soldier left Lebanese soil in 1946. From tensions in the South with Israel, passing by the War of Lebanon (1975-1990) – as I refuse to call it just a Civil War since there was a lot more to it -, the Israeli occupation of the South of Lebanon (1982-2000), the Syrian occupation of Lebanon (1976-2005), the 2006 war with Israel ( حرب تموز in Arabic, which translates into “War of July”), and much more ranging from civil tensions within the country, terrorist attacks and bombings and restless conflicts amongst Lebanese political parties.
“It is an unfortunate fact that we can secure only by preparing for war.”
– John Fitzgerald Kennedy
All of this reminded me of those videos we tend to see on social media and on YouTube of American soldiers (usually) coming back home from their tour abroad and surprising their loved ones. Those videos get a decent amount of exposure based on the loved ones’ reactions to seeing their parents, husband, wife, sibling, or friend being back amongst them in the same country, instead of thousands of kilometres away from home. As heart-warming as it is to see families and bonds reunited and connected once again, I had to ask myself two questions:
- Why are those soldiers so far away from their families in the first place? How is fighting à war tens of thousands of kilometres in today’s day and age keeping your country safe?
- What about those who will never make it back home to their loved ones?
I am not an expert when it comes to political science and international affairs, but I have followed enough classes during my university years to know that whenever a major country – in the likes of the United States and France – has intervened in an unsteady region of the world – whether it is the Middle East or Sub-Saharan Africa -, things always got worse, in that region and back home. The best way to describe it is through the music video of the song Castle Of Glass by Linkin Park.
The video focuses on a child receiving the news of his father’s – a soldier – passing. The lyrics and video describe a person who went through a traumatic experience and finds themself today struggling to find a sense of belonging in the society they live in. A society compared to a castle of glass, in which the kid is only a crack. An entire system that is based on the idea that those who are left behind will not speak up when their loved one passes away on the battlefield, so far away from home. As if they are the only ones going through this horrible experience of life.
“When the rich wage war, it’s the poor who die”
– Hands Held High by Linkin Park
I was always told to respect and admire the army for all their sacrifices, for all the times they stand at their posts in the rain, in the snow, or in the flaming heat. I was always told to stand by my country’s army whenever tensions arise and they are the ones who have to go out and sacrifice their lives for mine. But here’s the issue: this war is not mine, nor is it theirs. This war is the politicians’ war. It is a war they started and refuse to fight with their own hands because of their inability to come to an agreement like reasonable adults usually do when they disagree on something. Why is it that complicated to do the same thing on a more international level? Is it too much to ask from people who supposedly have spent their university years specialising in that field in order to properly govern a country one day?
The Lebanese army will always have my respect, even when they are not perfect in their actions. However, I am unable to find pride and honour in the idea of dying for one’s country when politicians do not even care and they end up collecting the medals of honour.