Monday, May 30, 2011
On this Memorial Day, most folks are taking it easy and enjoying a week without a normal Monday. They also stop, for a moment or two and recognize the reasons we celebrate this day. Well, not celebrate, but rather honor those who have served our country in previously wars.
I have no problem with that. It's tradition, and I love tradition. But I take this time to reflect on the concept of war as well. It really is the last option of presumably civilized countries. But as noted writer and thinker Chris Hedges has pointed out, "War is a force that gives us meaning." His book by that title accurately points out how we are all too often seduced by the mythology of war.
But today is for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Today is for all those young people who never had a chance to live their lives into their 40s or beyond. I submit that they often never had a chance to think deeply about the reasons we go to war, the consequences that follow, or the alternatives to war that we might pursue with as much vigor as we pursue the violence.
In my community, like many others, there is another kind of local war. Gangs. These dysfunction surrogate families remind me, in some ways, of nationalistic entities who value retribution, seem insensitive to violent acts that take human life, and often breed via the seduction of young people. I often see a disconnect in the national dialogue. I'm waiting for someone of legislative or popular notoriety to ask the simple question again: Why do they hate us?
I'd like to see our foreign policy formed along those lines, so we might be able to put an end to foreign interventions and follow the advice of George Washington who warned about "entangling alliances" in his Farewell Address.
But too often we infuse our love for all things military with religion or simple-minded jingoism. We like the sound of "putting a boot in their ass" better than the hard work of solving international issues with permanent solutions.
On this day I feel for my classmates and their fathers who never made it back home from the European or Pacific theaters of war, the mud of Korea or Vietnam. I feel for my former students who did not survive the sands of Iraq or the moon like terrain of Afghanistan.
On this Memorial day I see the 1/3 of the mentally ill and homeless on the street that are veterans. They can't eat the flag, or take it as medicine, or even get close enough to most people to tell their tales. And the little flags carried by children watching parades or stuck into the countless rows of white gravestones at attention on cemetery's are not big enough to keep out the cold of the sidewalk.
They used to call Memorial Day Decoration day. It was a day when people wore little poppies with red, white, and blue decorations and bunting attached. It arose after World War I. There have been too many wars that followed, one every 20 years if you do the math. So at some point, Memorial Day enabled us to lump all the honoring together to include all wars past and present. It solved one problem but ignored an even bigger one.