This morning, my two girls marched in the Memorial Day Parade. My wife and I and our housemate also went to cheer on our girls — in the middle of a parade highlighting Veterans from WWII. I’m sure there were others there from Kores, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan. There were the Jewish War Veterans, the WACS, Army, and so on and so on.
My wife, our housemate, and myself all saluted the flag as it went by, but for different reasons. Lisa had a father in “the war” — I’m not sure which one, but “the war” anyway. My wife really likes what Tom Brokaw calls “The Greatest Generation” and overcoming the evils of Nazism. Me? Iin memory of my Grandfather, who used to — during the Vietnam era — make me salute each and every flag as it passed by. My grandpa never served in a war. He was too young for WWI snd too old for WWII, and I loved his patriotism, even if I didn’t understand it. I was — as much as an 8 year old can be — against the Vietnam war. My uncle had come home and wasn’t the same, the news was about the war every night and even my grandparents were starting to doubt the war.
I remain a pacifist, just because I like to ask old questions, like “Is war really a good thing?” (None of the adults in the house has ever been pro-war. We have each protested at least one war and we were happy on the drive that there weren’t any “We killed Osama!” signs. My daughter woke up this morning to see the pouring rain and said, “It’s God crying for all the dead people”. So sue me, I’m a liberal.)
So here I was, this liberal pacifist, who doesn’t believe in war, saluting flags at a parade my kids were in. What the heck was I doing? I nearly couldn’t stand myself and I began to think “In the old days, we would have asked for no more Memorial Days because we shouldn’t be supporting war”. And yet, as I looked, nobody seemed to be celebrating war. Even the old veterans in the cars were just happy to be there, waving from their car, much like my daughters were being seen in the parade. And for people who fought WWII, one can make the case (as many have) was a “good war”. I don’t begrudge them their days as heroes and heroines. As much as I’m against wars, I’m against clearly dumb wars even more. They have their beliefs and I have mine, making me not a great pacifist, but a damn good patriot — one of which my grandfather would be proud,
About war: I don’t think it works, and it makes a mess of things — people’s lives, their land, economies — and the list goes on. One of the reasons, for instance, that the Japanese got so far ahead of us in the last half of the twentieth century was they weren’t spending massive amounts on a military budget. They weren’t allowed to have a military. Beside that, war doesn’t work very well. Every person we kill has family that gets upset. They get upset and want revenge and rightfully so. If we kill hundreds, they kill hundreds. If they kill thousands of us, we kill thousands of them. And so it goes. It’s not working. Feedback loops never stop, they just go round and round. This particular one leaves hurt and loss in its wake.
From a religious point of view — mine anyway — GOD gave that person life. It’s not mine to take away. As long as the person’s alive, there’s a chance for “brotherhood” — a connection between us — and salvation — they can become better people.
Do I understand rage, anger, the lust for revenge? Sure I do. Do I understand evil exists? Every single day. Do I have ALL the answers? Not even. I’m pretty clear that life is a good thing and systems of death aren’t.
Ok, enough ranting. How do we balance out our love for heroes and heroines, and our need to remember those who fought and died without celebrating war? Here’s my suggestion: next year l let’s have a parade for those who fought and died because — for whatever reasons– they thought it was the right thing. Let’s take care of the people who went to war and celebrate that they are home. And then let’s celebrate human life and try to never have a war again. That’s something to celebrate.