Sunday, May 27, 2007

A Memorial to Peace

"War, rather than any foreign state, is the supreme enemy of country and mankind. One day citizens will covet for this nation the prestige of being the first to escape the shackles of war." (Jessie Wallace Hughan, Founder of the War Resisters League 1876-1955)

Memorial Day is a United States federal holiday which "commemorates U.S. men and women who have died in military service to their country." Update: Eight U.S. troops were killed in Iraq this Memorial Day 2007. At the risk of coming under the condemnation of Mormon bloggers everywhere, I wish to register my objection to the deplorable sentiments underlying this holiday.

We can all agree on the magnitude of the sacrifice offered by American soldiers. They answered the call of the leaders of their country to go to war. They did this with the knowledge that their own lives might be taken. I am not one who looks upon military volunteers as being either bloodthirsty warmongers or poverty-stricken and brainwashed victims. Their brand of courage is not ordinary, and will never be ordinary.

I must, however, denounce the commemoration of lives destroyed by militarism. Instead of celebrating lives given up for war, I would mourn the lives snuffed out and stolen by our country's participation in martial combat. It seems to me that Memorial Day might more aptly commemorate the lives of America's great Peacemakers--people such as Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther King, Peace Pilgrim, Jeannette Rankin, A.J. Muste, Jane Addams, and a myriad of others.

"The job of the peacemaker is to stop war, to purify the world, to get it saved from poverty and riches, to heal the sick, to comfort the sad, to wake up those who have not yet found God." (Muriel Lester, Social Activist, Gandhian Pacifist, 1883-1968)

Throughout history, nations have consigned their young men (and now women) to kill one another for reasons honorable or absurd. Often war was declared as a response to evil or oppression; other times violence came as political or economic conflicts that should have been resolved without violence. When the causes are just and when they are not, lives lost to war are sacred and full of promise and potential. Those who ponder these things can only regret that wars are still waged and lives are still lost. I wish that on the day which has been set apart as a "Memorial", we would not only remember the courageous souls who were sent by their governments to die on battlefields, but rather we would regret and repudiate the conditions that lead some people to believe that offering their lives in military service is the best or only hope for peace, protection or patriotism.

Indeed, conceit, arrogance, and egotism are the essentials of patriotism. Let me illustrate. Patriotism assumes that our globe is divided into little spots, each one surrounded by an iron gate. Those who have had the fortune of being born on some particular spot, consider themselves better, nobler, grander, more intelligent than the living beings inhabiting any other spot. It is, therefore, the duty of everyone living on that chosen spot to fight, kill, and die in the attempt to impose his superiority upon all the others.

The inhabitants of the other spots reason in like manner, of course, with the result that, from early infancy, the mind of the child is poisoned with blood-curdling stories about the Germans, the French, the Italians, Russians, etc. When the child has reached manhood, he is thoroughly saturated with the belief that he is chosen by the Lord himself to defend HIS country against the attack or invasion of any foreigner. It is for that purpose that we are clamoring for a greater army and navy, more battleships and ammunition
. (Emma Goldman: Patriotism: A Menace to Liberty From the 1917 edition of Emma Goldman's Anarchism and Other Essays)

Military indoctrination, by its nature, teaches the young that the enemy is unworthy of life.

Christian pacifists are often asked about Romans 13. ["Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience."] The Mormon counterpart seems to be our Article of Faith #12: ["We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law."] But I find my answer in Romans 12, which says to do good to your enemy and to overcome evil with good. In World War II, after all, there were many Catholics and Lutherans in Germany who used Romans 13 to justify fighting for the Nazis.

"Many people know the simple spiritual law that evil can only be overcome by good. Pacifists not only know it, they also attempt to live it." (Peace Pilgrim, Philosopher, Activist, Ethical Vegetarian, Vegan 1908-1981)

A new song, Hymn for Anzac Day, was sung for the first time at Mornington Methodist Church in New Zealand on April 29, 2007. Anzac Day is New Zealand and Australia's version of Memorial Day. Notice the third stanza, where the brave who do not answer the call of war are also honored:

Honour the dead, our country’s fighting brave,
honour our children left in foreign grave,
where poppies blow and sorrow seeds her flowers,
honour the crosses marked forever ours .

Weep for the places ravaged by our blood,
weep for the young bones buried in the mud,
weep for the powers of violence and greed,
weep for the deals done in the name of need.

Honour the brave whose conscience was their call,
answered no bugle, went against the wall,
suffered in prisons of contempt and shame,
branded as cowards in our country’s name.

Weep for the waste of all that might have been,
Weep for the cost that war has made obscene,
Weep for the homes that ache with human pain,
Weep that we ever sanction war again.

Honour the dream for which our nation bled,
Held now in trust to justify the dead,
Honour their vision on this solemn day,
Peace known in freedom, peace the only way.

(words by Shirley Murray, music by Colin Gibson)

I challenge supporters of the American military machine to demonstrate how war brings about peace. How does more killing honor the lives of those who have died? The world has been at war throughout recorded history, and never has war brought definitive peace to any generation. Violent resistance to violence always fails to bring about peace. Rather, it establishes a realignment of forces under principles of violence. War is rarely motivated by the high ideals that its supporters use to justify it.

"Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.... The chain reaction of evil — hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars — must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation." (Martin Luther King Jr.)

In this day and age, with our weapons of mass destruction and our new and improved ways of torturing each other, war is insanity. It is destructiveness; it is immorality; it is total waste. Our goal today must be the end of war. Negotiation should be our commitment. Perhaps the best way to memorialize the sacrifice of those who have lost their lives in war is to strive for a mastery of peace--a better way of resolving conflict--a commitment to the transformational power of love.


JohnR said...

Thank you for this. We do not observe Memorial Day in our home (except to critique it as a family), partly because of its nationalistic overtones. Remembering one's deceased loved ones is one thing, but blindly bowing before the military dead as so many idols to the false religion of nationalism is another.

These were complex lives cut short, and many did not wish to die for their country and many died not for worthy ends but for corrupt and/or misguided causes. When Americans sacrifice spirits of the military dead in the name of the national ghost, we dishonor their names and abuse their memories.

Finally, on Memorial Day, we ignore the civilian cost of war and effectively reinforce that the price paid by one of military members far outweighs that paid by your children, women, and men, be they civilians or soldiers.

WendyP said...

I noticed you were discouraged by lack of comments on this post over at mind on fire. I read your entry the day you posted it and was so touched and agreed so much with what you wrote. Just wanted to let you know your blog has become one of my favorites. You are completely unique on the Bloggernacle. :)

Bored in Vernal said...

Thanks so much, WendyP! I'm glad you read it. I was hoping for more of a response to this, since world peace is such an important issue to me. But I hope at least it got read!

Miko said...

I spent this memorial day with a man who was a bomber pilot in WWII. He always gets misty eyed when he watches the parades and hears the speeches, but he rarely talks about the war. After seeing Fahrenheit 9/11, it took me months to be able to see a flag without crying or being filled with rage. I still can't take memorial days, fourths of July, and November 11. And yet I find conflict with the fact that I want to honor Grampie (DH's grandfather) and the things he has lost to war: friends, certainly; perhaps innocence as well.

I think the Hymn you posted says it best: weep for those who died, but weep also that we allowed them to.

I'd like to add to that for our current war: weep that we don't care enough to sacrifice at home. Where are the Victory Gardens, chocolate and gas rations, and cups of saved grease? How can we allow ourselves to act as though we're not at war?

Bored in Vernal said...

Miko, you've touched on one reason I think Memorial Day is so insidious--it links our love and admiration for those who were willing to serve us with nationalism and militarism.

That's a good point you make about US civilians being so distanced from this war. It is so easy to ignore the costs of the war when they really don't touch us on a daily basis.

(My grandparents had an amazing Victory Garden, which my dad still raves about to this day.)

littlemissattitude said...

I too read this when you first posted it, BiV, but I wasn't feeling well and was having a hard time framing the comments that I really wanted to make.

I think the reason why the members of the current administration glorify the war dead, or one of the reasons, is that they've never been there. Bush hasn't, Cheney hasn't, and I can't think of any members of the inner circle who have been. They all seemed to, in Cheney's infamous words, have "other priorities" when they were of an age, the draft was still in use, and there was a war going on in Vietnam...a war that I suspect most of them thought was okay thing...I don't think too many of them were out carrying protest signs or burning their draft cards. I suspect that they have a sort of movie version of what war is like in their heads, and that is what they are really glorifying.

On the other hand, my father did fight - in World War II - and he never, ever glorified war. True, he wasn't down on the ground being shot at...but he was in a plane being shot at (he was a radio operator in the Army-Air Force), which is in many ways an even stickier thing. And, in fact, his plane, which he often described as being "more hole than plane" after a certain number of missions, was eventually shot down over Italy and he spent nearly two years as a "guest" of the Reich...he was a prisoner of war. He knew better than to glorify what goes on in war.

This is not to say that my father was a pacifist; he was not, and believed that there are some wars that have to be fought. But he had no illusions as to what that entails and what it did to those who have to participate. He did not believe that it was something to be celebrated or glamorized. And I suspect that he wouldn't have had much good to say about what is going on in Iraq at present or the people who have agitated for the war there.

Bored in Vernal said...

you haven't been feeling well for quite a while. I hope things are better now. Thanks for your comments. No one in my immediate family went to war. But my FIL was in WWII. He would never discuss his experiences, but from things he alluded to, one could tell that it deeply affected his attitudes and the way he lived the rest of his life. He was only 17 years old when he went, and he came back a mean drunk. I know that war does different things to different people. One only has to read "Night" and "Man's Search for Meaning" together to see that. But I'm sad that war is part of the human experience, and I want to be part of trying to eliminate it from the planet!