Published in the New Hampshire Concord Monitor, May 28, 2017
MEMORIAL DAY 2017
Study War No More
Each spring, on a sunny day before Memorial Day, our family visits the graves of our parents to clean away the weeds and plant flowers. As we clean the headstone, we remind each other of the struggles and good times we had shared with our parents. The view from the family plot in this small country cemetery includes small American flags waving in the spring breeze next to grave markers of military veterans. Some had lived long lives while others had fallen in battle, much too young. There were veterans from many past wars. However, as I took in this scene, a cloud settled over the cemetery and the wind ceased to blow. The flags fell limp as if grieving with the discovery that for the past fifty years there has been perpetual war creating more veterans, more wounds, and more graves.
I was reminded again of our country’s never-ending war when I viewed a new memorial to veterans in the community where I live. There is a plaque embedded into concrete for each branch of the military. Written into the concrete are the words, “In honor of all veterans past, present, and future.” Has war become so much a part of our lives that we accept its inevitable extension into the future of our country?
The normalization of perpetual war has seeped into our society unnoticed. We have professionalized our armed forces. During World War II, military personnel were called “our boys in uniform.” Now we call them “warriors.” Joining the military is a job and a career choice. In March of this year there were United States Special Operation Forces deployed in 102 countries around the globe. Often our country leads with military action or the threat of action before initiating diplomacy. The military industrial complex drives our country’s economic health. To seek an end to war is to jeopardize the stock market and to be against good civilian jobs needed to keep the military supplied with weapons and all the materials that keep an army running.
The best way to honor our war veterans this Memorial Day is to reject the notion that it is normal to live in a time of perpetual war. In the Memorial Day ceremonies in every city, village, and town let us sing “I ain’t gonna study war no more.” Let us pledge to take military recruiters and organizations out of our high schools. Further, as a veteran, I do not need praise for being a “warrior.” Nor do I need medals and speeches for bravery or praises for my sacrifice. I need people to confess that there is no glory in war. There may be times when our country finds itself in a defensive war. But do not deny that war is a horror and a corrupter of young lives wrenched out of their home cities, villages and farmlands. Some are killed. Some are permanently disabled. PTSD is another result of sending people into a war environment that is alien to all they’ve been taught about relationships, citizenship and rule of law.
Therefore, this Memorial Day, I seek to honor veterans of past wars with my own confession. I served as an Army Medic at Walter Reed Army Medical Center from 1962 through the beginning of the Viet Nam war in 1965. Later, one of my brothers served as a cook in Viet Nam. I was never on a battlefield. But I confess we’ve both contributed to the carnage of war by our participation in support systems that make it possible to send men and women into harms way, some to their deaths. In retrospect, I’m sorry that I chose that path when other ways were available to me. I am unable to justify participating in the precursor of what has become perpetual war.
And so I grieve over the flag marked graves of our veterans. I seek reconciliation with those women and men who have been injured and killed during the last fifty years. I also seek to reconcile with veterans who gave up portions of their lives to military deployment. The first step is for us to commit to extracting our country from the bravado and profits of war.
We can begin by becoming a people who honor those who non-violently risk and sometimes sacrifice their lives as volunteers in risky areas and situations in our world: people who bear the name of our country as they serve through non governmental agencies such as Doctors Without Borders and journalists; serve in refugee aid projects and rehabilitation projects after floods, tornadoes, and earthquakes; and serve through organizations like UNICEF, United Nations Relief and Works Agency, and the Peace Corps. These are sometimes dangerous and radical alternatives to war and aggression. Thank them for their courage and commitment.
Finally, this Memorial Day let us say over the graves of the fallen, ‘in our grief we commit to a future where we teach the ways of peace with justice. You have not died in vain. You have created among us abhorrence for the ways of war and a passion for diplomacy and reconciliation with our neighbors.” Then perhaps we shall notice the clouds pass away and the wind stir the flags marking the resting places of our war veterans.