“Celebrating” Memorial Day

 

Grills will be lit; beer will be iced.  Pool parties will be scheduled.  Many will celebrate a three-day weekend.  Many will not consider, “What cost?”

Memorial Day is a remembrance of horror; the costs of war, in blood and bone, in flesh, in broken bodies and minds.  It is a remembrance of loss.  The day should not be a celebration but too many of us treat it as if it was.

We have fallen in love with the idea of war.  We have been at war for far too long.  I was born during the Korean “Conflict”, came of age during the Cold War and Vietnam.  I have lived through too many wars, lived through what has become almost continuous.

We glorify our military conquests and denigrate anything other than total victory.  Memorial Day should be a sobering recognition of what glorification cost instead of a drunken celebration of war.

Local VFWs and other veterans’ groups will sponsor parades and tributes to our fallen heroes.  Old men in ill-fitting uniforms will stand at attention saluting as marching bands play.  Small flags will flutter in front of grave markers and trumpets will sound over cemeteries in villages, towns and cities alike.

TMC will broadcast an all-day marathon of war movies featuring brave men dying for a cause.  We should remember, these matinée idols are playing a role; the men and women they portray did not get to go home after a day in front of a camera.  Many of these roles never came home at all and no one is left unscathed when the battle is over.

For those who returned, far too many servicemen and women came home having left a part of themselves on battlefields around the world.  In deserts and swamps, they left more than their footprints, they left a piece of their humanity and a bit of their sanity.  War is not always a noble enterprise even though most of the men and women who fight it are quite noble and brave.  War is not a movie on a screen.

I once enjoyed watching movies with John Wayne facing down the enemy.  Sitting with my father, a World War Two veteran, the Sunday Matinee might offer “The Fighting Seabees”, “The Sands of Iwo Jima”, “Flying Leathernecks”, “In Harm’s Way”, “The Horse Soldiers” and “They Were Expendable”.  The craggy-faced, steely-eyed hero squinting down his gun barrel, facing insurmountable odds and yet somehow prevailing…too often at the cost of his own life but never at the cost of his humanity.  His bravery displayed in technicolor on the silver screen.

I have become a pacifist.  I never intended to be one, it just happened.  As a youth, I was gung-ho with my mother’s metal mixing bowl upside down on my head, defending the red clay hill behind my house against the enemies of the “American Way” with my Mattel Thompson machine gun.

I know in my Autumn years I’ve become just that, a pacifist.  I suspect my course of study in college, Kurt Vonnegut, the effects of living through the Vietnam War years and an almost continuous series of military conflicts during my lifetime are to blame for my change.  Too many dead, too many broken.

War, policing actions or skirmishes are all the same to the dead and wounded.  Young people fighting old men’s wars.  The poor fighting for the rich.  All dying for ideology, religion or to line the pockets of those who benefit from the business of war.  I have become quite cynical and am not apologetic.

I was a participant in the first Vietnam draft lottery, my brass ring was number two hundred seventeen.  I say brass ring because the number was never called.  I knew I was a coward and didn’t want to go fight in Southeast Asia or anywhere else for that matter.  I also knew I would be the bravest coward in the world if called up.  I would go and fight if asked to.  I could do nothing else.  I would do what was expected by friends, family and my nation.  I wonder how many called to fight felt the same way.  How many were called up and went because it was expected? I felt I must have been the only one.

We have become too fond of war.  We eat and digest the propaganda.  War makes too many people rich, too many people powerful…too many people dead.

We have a love affair with our expensive and destructive toys of war.  The one percent pushing the ninety-nine percent to the brink.  Pulling our six-guns and coming out blazing.  Let God sort it out in the end because diplomacy doesn’t make enough money.

The greatest “celebration” to our fallen would be to end the killing and bring our people home, ceasing to create more fallen.  But there is no money to be made in bringing our people home and we learned from Vietnam, there can be no hint of defeat.  I fear we will continue to memorialize until there is no one left.

As an anonymous philosopher once posed, “War does not determine who is right — only who is left.”   I visualize a lone man celebrating victory as the world burns around him.

Yes, I am cynical…and quite morose this morning.  I can think of no better way to “celebrate” Memorial Day.

To those who serve, to those who have given all, to those who have lost their loved ones, you have my gratitude and I hope, the gratitude of a nation.

The image of Arlington Nationa Cemetary courtesy of https://www.military.com

Don Miller’s author’s page may be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

REMEMBERENCE

As we pause to recognize those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom this Memorial Day I am troubled over some of the reactions to President Obama’s visit to Japan and the site of the first nuclear bomb drop at Hiroshima. This goes beyond the rumors that he might apologize for an act that he characterized as evil. It was the reaction to his characterization that troubles me and not the reaction to a rumor that did not take place.

War is evil and yet we glorify it. I grew up in an age not far removed from World War Two and spent many hours during my childhood playing “war.” I see nothing wrong with it but I never pretended to be Paul Tibbits in the Enola Gay either. I was glorifying the men who stormed the beaches at Normandy, Sicily, and too many islands in the Pacific. I glorify all of the men and women who have served in all of our wars, especially those who gave the ultimate price and believe that our lawmakers have abandoned many of our vets. I glorify our men and women who serve but I will never glorify the act of war. War is evil and shows the worst that humanity has to offer even when it is a necessary evil and you are on the side of “God.”

One of those worsts acts was the use of the nuclear bomb, a truly evil action, even by President Truman’s admission. A truly NECESSARY evil action that Truman was justified in making to end a war that had already ended too many lives. I can’t imagine the personal deliberation Mr. Truman wrestled with coming to the discussion to use the A Bomb but agree with its use. Evil defeating evil…how bizarre.

I don’t know how anyone would not want a nuclear free world? It isn’t going to happen, nor is there going to be world peace. Should we not strive for it though? Should turning the Middle East into a parking lot be the FIRST OBJECTIVE…or even the last. Those of us in the Baby Boomer generation grew up with the fear of “massive retaliation” and “preemptive first strikes.” Alerts were issued cautioning us to not eat snow cream or root vegetables because of high levels of radiation caused by too many nuclear tests. Teachers attempting to convince us that we could survive a nuclear attack by sitting under a desk with a book over our heads. Is this a necessary evil? Until everyone beats their “swords into ploughshares” I would say yes but I still do not support the evil.

We should never apologize but we should never forget it any more than we should forget the price our military paid to end World War Two or any other war. “A Bomb Dome” in Hiroshima should always be a symbol of the evil of war as should the ovens at Auschwitz or the redoubts at Vicksburg. Hiroshima should always be a symbol for the destructive power of nuclear weapons and a reminder of the cost of their use. We should also read what President Obama said, it was a long time needing to be said.

More nonfiction by Don Miller is available at http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM