Veterans Day: Celebrating Service in Our Community

Mo Moscovitz teaches American Sign Language at Kirby School and has been teaching ASL for almost 20 years–at Cabrillo College and CSU Monterey Bay, where he helped found the ASL program. He is a “native signer,” having been born to deaf parents–although he can hear.

In All School Meeting last week, we held space for Mr. Moscovitz to share his thoughts with us about his service as a Vietnam veteran.

We learned he has seen and heard things most of us can’t fathom.

Mr. Moscovitz spent all of 1967 in Vietnam. Through his account of his experience and his perceptions of war, we better understand what it means to be a Veteran and how we may honor those who have served on Veterans Day.

Kirby students posed questions of Mo–questions he says, “a person could struggle with for a lifetime” to answer. Here are the questions and his answers:

Q: Did your opinion about American involvement in the war change as a result of your service?

I went in skeptical and I came out skeptical. What I know is that war is not a viable answer to human conflict. We are privileged to live in America. All of us here have freedoms we don’t even know we have–we’ve exercised freedoms we are not conscious of just to get here today. We have a way of life that is worth defending. Absolutely! But is war the answer? That is a different question. The hope is that humankind can learn to settle conflicts and disputes without killing each other en masse. I don’t know if there’s ever been a time in history when people haven’t used war to solve conflict. Maybe you can figure out how?

Q: How did your family feel about your service?

My parents are deaf. So my dad didn’t get to serve. My dad was proud of me, even with my shorn hair and ears sticking out, he was very proud. Mom had already passed away by the time I served.

Q: What life lessons did you learn from your war experiences?

How much time do you have? There are so many! You’d be a lot older by the time I finished telling all of them. One was that I learned beauty is only skin deep. In Vietnam I was in charge of a group of Vietnamese people who came onto base to do manual labor. Many were women and they too came on to do hard work like fill heavy sandbags. They would chew a thing called betel nut as they worked, which is a stimulant. However chewing it would cause their teeth to go black and fall out. When I first saw this, well, it was not the prettiest sight. But then as I got to know each person, my conditioned perceptions of their physical appearance seemed to dissolve, and in its place, the beauty of their spirit, soul, and culture shone through. Theirs is one of the most beautiful cultures I have ever been exposed to.

Q: Describe your experience coming home. What was it like to come home?

Back then, Vietnam vets were not welcomed home. We were not treated well. There was much upheaval in States and around the world—Vietnam was not a popular war. No war should be popular, but we were spit on, and called “baby killers,” and such. Terrible stuff happened to us. But over time, over the next couple of decades people came to realize vets were just doing their jobs. People began to figure out how to hate war, not the warrior. So although it was hard then to come home, the silver lining is that the American public changed their view on vets-–and we are now largely honored as people who did an important job; but it was rough back then.

Q: What is the best question you could ask a vet?

It’s not a question, but the first thing I’d say to a vet is “welcome home.”

I’d also say there are two ways to look at war: The ideological/philosophical/spiritual perspective, and the concrete, physical, “boots on the ground” perspective.

The ideological way to look at this is that maybe there’s a way we can solve conflict without killing each other. Is there ever a justification for war that is strong enough to kill each other over? Each of you have to soul search and think that through.

But in looking at it from the concrete, boots on the ground perspective, there are people (such as Head of School Mrs. Hutton’s brother) in Afghanistan and elsewhere right now. These men and women are in harm’s way. Each day they risk and are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice. To be able to do what they have to do, they need to believe in the reasons they are there. We need to believe in them, and assure them there are valid reasons for being there.

At the same time, humankind needs to find hope that there are ways to resolve conflict that don’t involve killing each other, no matter what our beliefs. That’s it, really. We need to give those who are serving hope we can resolve conflict without war AND help them believe there’s a reason for their being there–which are opposing ideas. But then that’s it, there is no black and white. Not in war.