I often wonder if people are going to sick of my yammering about the same topics, but I feel compelled to complain about war while it still remains an issue, about racism while it remains an issue, about poverty and economic inequality,bad theology, sexism, and a whole list of other things as they continue to raise their ugly heads and people I know are effected.
So it’s Memorial Day again — a day when people remember those men and women who have lost their lives (are memorialized) in the course of war or while in the military service.
I don’t want to rain on anybody’s parade here — so I won’t. Those who have died gave their lives for a cause that they believed in — this country. We owe them a debt of gratitude for living in a free country (such as it is) and honor for their actions being congruent with their beliefs. That part of Memorial Day is what it is supposed to be and always should be. We grieve for their loss, just as we should grieve the loss of any human life before it’s time. We believe in the deepest recesses of our heart that people shouldn’t die early in life. We know what’s supposed to be and what isn’t the way it should be, and we grieve when those two don’t match up.
First off, honoring the dead means learning from them. Did Bill or Mary die from a war they didn’t believe in? Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen again. Did Jim or Sue have to do things that went against their moral code because they were commanded to? Let’s not do that again. Did the leaders of our country or any other country send them to war because they or someone else was greedy? Let’s not do that either. Was our going to war based on hatred and fear or to protect others? No on 1 and 2, Yes on 3. I suspect if we follow those rules, the number of wars in the world will drop greatly and we will be a lot more comfortable in our skins as a species. Oh, and I think that God will be happier, too, if that matters to you.
Secondly, honoring the dead means dealing with those who aren’t dead. If a serviceman or woman went to war and comes back damaged in some way — mentally, physically or spiritually — those who sent them there need to clean up the mess they caused. We have a covenant with them that says, in essence, “if they take care of us, we will take care of them”. To the extent that we don’t live up to that covenant, America (the country. the ideal) has broken trust with Americans (the people, citizens) and democracy is broken.We have no right to trumpet a democracy that isn’t actually real as The Greatest Thing in The World. We have every right to trumpet democracy when ours works for the people in it. When our government is actually “of the people, by the people, and for the people” it is the best system in the world.
In practical terms, the VA medical system, the veterans benefits system and disability support services need to function and they need to function well. We shouldn’t rest until all of those who risked their lives are through with the effects of the war or got something in return for their service. Also, therapists need to help veterans and their families re-adjust to civilian life if their military life caused them pain. Your average citizen shouldn’t be able to simply say. “Thanks for your service” if we don’t know what that “service” meant — how hard or easy it was. We honor the living by listening to them. The dead wouldn’t want it any other way.
Finally, war gets complicated for soldiers who go over to another country to “save” them or “bring them freedom” when the country they’re fighting in is more “free” to them then their own country. Soldiers of a race who fought in Europe in World War I or II, went home to a place that was far more segregated than the place they fought to free. Maybe soldiers experience the same thing now over homosexuality, I don’t know. When Vietnam came, a great number of African-Americans chose not to go because they didn’t feel like it was their country. Living in a bombed-out ghetto with no jobs and no economic future doesn’t make you want to go somewhere else and make that world look just as bad. Its hard to feel you’re bringing freedom to a country when you feel oppressed/not “free” in the one you live in. Japanese Americans and Native Americans had every right to tell us to “take a hike” when we asked them to go to war. The fact that they didn’t always means that they believed in something that didn’t believe in them. People who love their country more than their country loves them are real idealists, and need to be heard and listened to about what America could be.
Being the best country we can means that those who died for it didn’t die in vain. On Memorial Day, let us listen, learn and support those who have come back, just as we mourn those who didn’t.