As Memorial Day 2012 winds down I do not think of the parades, barbecues, the biggest sales of the season, or even the unofficial start of summer. I think of soldiers lost to war whose families will never celebrate any holidays with them any more.
Originally called Decoration Day the holiday was created to honor those who have died in service to their country, but that idea seems to have been lost to the masses.
Jingoistic flag-waving, jet flyovers, and other displays of militarism do not honor dead soldiers. $500 off of a new car, white sales, and other specials do not honor lives sacrificed too young. Barbecues and twelve-packs do not honor their memories. For me, the best possible memorial to a fallen soldier is lasting peace.
Ten years have gone by and we are still at war in Afghanistan and are still lingering in Iraq. More than 6,400 soldiers have died in those two conflicts. More than 6,400 (and that is just American soldiers–it doesn’t count the soldiers of other countries or civilians). Each one of them was a unique human being with their own set of family and friends whose lives died in some ways with them. Each one brought their own personalities and quirks to their everyday lives. Each one will be missed by countless others. They were teenagers to veterans in their fifties. They were men and women, black and white and in-between, of every heritage. Take a moment and go to the Washington Post’s page, Faces of the Fallen (http://apps.washingtonpost.com/national/fallen/), and it will leave you breathless. You can click on pictures of each of the fallen soldiers and get basic information on them, such as age, hometown, and most importantly, a picture that makes them so much more real than a statistic like “*one of 6,400” killed. The reality of what has been lost is stunning.
I weep for the promise lost. I weep for the innocence lost. I weep for each and every one of the lives lost.
Every major world religion promotes peace. Every politican talks of the importance of peace. Yet here we are in 2012 settling differences with tanks and armor, securing imperialism with drones and heat-seeking missiles, killing women and children along with sacrificing our own sons and daughters, and we are okay with that as a nation. This is the way of an enlightened society? This is the best we can do after thousands of years of evolution? I weep also for a society that cannot advance further than that, for a society that glorifies war and engages in it endlessly. A truly enlightened society would engage in peace.
As citizens we are complicit in the destruction with our silence. Unless we are actively involved in peace efforts, in educating the world about the atrocities, in doing whatever we can to stop the killing by our government in our names then we are guilty as well. I cannot bear that burden on my soul.
On this day my memorial to my Uncle Lyle who came back from World War II with a wounded consciousness, my cousin Rick who was killed in Viet Nam, and my distant cousin Jesse who was recently killed in Afghanistan is to work toward peace. This is what Memorial Day should be about–not celebrating the militaristic and imperialist impulses that put them in harms way, but working toward an everlasting peace so that no more will die too young.