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Front Porch: War not a word to be used lightly

Words matter to me.

I make my living crafting them. Whether writing a column, a news story or a book, I spend my days weighing and measuring them – searching for the best turn of phrase to communicate a thought, an idea or a fact.

Sometimes I play with them. Juggling them, nudging them to create content that elicits a reaction, a smile or a tear.

Even when handled lightly, I understand their power on a printed page. And while not all words are meant to be taken literally, I think some should be.

War is one of them.

Yesterday was Veterans Day – a day we as country set aside to honor the men and women who have served or continue to serve in our armed forces.

I’ve lost count of the veterans I’ve interviewed over the years, but their faces and their stories are seared into my soul – especially the stories of combat veterans, those who faced loss of life and limb during their time of service.

So just to be clear, here’s Webster’s definition of war: A state of usually open and declared armed hostile conflict between states or nations or a period of such armed conflict.

Other definitions may have made their way into our reference books and cultural consciousness, but the original meaning of war is armed conflict.

The kind of conflict Wes Hixon faced in 2008 in Iraq when the Stryker vehicle he was riding in hit an IED. “Four people were killed outright,” he said. “The rest were injured. Me and another soldier were paralyzed. Most of them were pretty good friends of mine.”

I interviewed Hixon, then 24, in 2009 as he sat in a wheelchair. He knows what war is.

So do the twin brothers I wrote about last month who served as medics in Vietnam. They returned home with the lingering legacy of post-traumatic stress disorder. War is ever present in their nightmares and in memories so brutal, time has done nothing to dull their horror.

And certainly the scores of World War II veterans I’ve interviewed over the years know what war is. While far from home, they were shot at, bombed or taken prisoner. Not one of them glamorized or sanitized the conflicts they endured.

As William Tecumseh Sherman so famously said, “I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation. War is hell.

So, perhaps you can understand why reading about the “war on Christmas,” makes me a bit testy.

In particular, Hayden resident Jeremy Morris’ assertion that his homeowner’s associations objections to his Christmas extravaganza is “an attack on people of faith.”

Morris plans an elaborate lighted display featuring cocoa, a choir and a camel. He wants to use the event as a fundraiser for local charities. No word as to why he doesn’t just donate the cost of the lights, cocoa and camel rental.

He received a letter from his homeowner’s association advising him that his event would constitute a nuisance to the neighborhood and that a lawsuit to prevent it might be filed.

His response? “Nuts!”

History buffs will recognize that reply as identical to one an American general issued to the German command when asked to surrender during the Battle of the Bulge. The irony of Morris using a World War II reference in homeowner’s association dispute left me cold.

Morris told The Spokesman-Review he thinks the bigger issue is that the homeowners association wants to force his family and their Christian beliefs out of the neighborhood.

“This is an attack on people of faith,” he said.

Also in the news this week, allegations that Starbucks’ decision to remove holiday images from their seasonal cups constitutes a “war on Christmas.”

When the company revealed their seasonal cups sans Santa or snowflakes, social media exploded.

“Starbucks REMOVED CHRISTMAS from their cups because they hate Jesus,” wrote former Arizona pastor Joshua Feuerstein in a viral Facebook post that had at least 8 million views Saturday night.

As Charlie Brown would say, “Good grief!”

There is no war on Christmas, but thousands of troops are currently deployed far from home fighting real battles, while we bicker about camels and coffee cups.

Trivializing the word war cheapens its meaning. Do me a favor. If you want to understand what it really means, talk to a combat veteran.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.