My grandfather was a veteran. That has many layers of meaning to those born in the USA. For me it invokes conflicting thoughts. But, in Paraguay the understanding of the military is different. I do not know how the history of the dictatorship or the history of several high-casualty wars influence Paraguayans’ views of Paraguayan soldiers. I know soldiers are respected here. But, from what I understand (grain of salt) joining the military is held high in Paraguay because it’s a good, solid job. One has to work hard to get in, and once he or she is in he or she will always be able to provide for his or her family.
In Paraguay, the military is a providers’ choice. Paraguay doesn’t wage wars these days like the States still does. Paraguay has never been charged by scholars as trying to be the “world’s policeman.” In Paraguay, the military is a secure way to pull oneself up his or her bootstraps. Paraguayan soldiers have a small chance of being shipped off to a land they don’t know to fight a guerrilla war. In the current political climate, they seem unlikely to use their weapons on any kind of battlefield.
Several of the most difficult conversations I’ve had in Paraguay were about military service. I’m close to the family of a young man who is studying in the Paraguayan military academy. His sister once asked me if I like soldiers. His aunt talked about what a hard-working person the soldier-to-be is. His mother and father explained how they’ve had to sacrifice to send him to military school. They hope he will help his younger sister when it’s her turn to go to college.
During those conversations, I thought of Arlington cemetery and the news—why I don’t like watching the news. I thought of the base shootings. I thought of the pledge of allegiance. I thought of baseball games and the National Symphony Orchestra’s concert each Memorial Day on the Capitol lawn. I thought of my grandfather in uniform. I thought of the star spangled banner.
In those conversations with Paraguayans about the military I chose to listen. I chose to limit my commentary. There are cultural things that can be explained—food, for example. There are parts of culture that run too deep to neatly fit in words. What do Paraguayans think when I tell them my grandfather was a soldier? How would they react to his funeral? Do Paraguayan soldiers have special burial rites? If so, who gets them and under what circumstances? Are Paraguayan mothers worried about their children or just proud when they enlist?