Let There Be Peace

Memorial Mile. This is an annual display by the Madison, Wisconsin chapter of Veterans for Peace. Each marker represents a soldier killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. The ones with Wisconsin flags represent Badger soldiers who gave their lives. The display goes for a mile along Monona Drive at Olbrich Park. Photo by Callen Harty.

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.


About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on Amazon.com (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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