Sunday, May 28, 2006

Memorial Day, 2006

This marks the second time Memorial Day has occurred since I started blogging. I am more aware than ever that this holiday is as much about war as peace. By some inverted reasoning most people reconcile those two opposite conditions as co-dependent...two sides of a single coin. I wait for a day when peace is not defined in negative terms: the absence of war. In its fullest incarnation peace is not negative, but positive. Peace is pro-active, requiring a constant outreach of reconcilliation.

At some level we know that war is reactive and peace is pro-active. No one advocates anything other than a "defensive" war. Even the doctrine of preemption stands on arguments for defense. But there is little support for waging peace.

Last year I put together a special post for this day. A couple of poems and a snip from Shaw's Don Juan in Hell make a pitiful gesture in a world gone mad with fighting, but I remain firm in my belief that even when war seems inevitable, there should always be hope for an alternative. And in the midst of the worst of conflict, the hope for peace must never be allowed to die.

I have a high regard for professional warriors. I came to the conclusion long ago that in the history of mankind no society has ever found a way to survive for long without a warrior class. In the Army I was able to experience first-hand how many people are able to dedicate themselves to the task of fighting and killing, even to the point of snuffing out the lives of people they will never see. Warriors need one another for balance, in the same way that sports teams need one another. War is not a singular activity, like golf or mountain-climbing. No, war is a team activity. It requires group coordination and focused efforts aimed at defeating another force. And history has no record of any country without war.

My outspoken opposition to war, defending Jimmy Carter's attempts to bridge conflicts and a transparent dislike for some of the president's shortcomings seem to have made me a pariah in the blog world. My politics is dangerously close to anarchy. I have always regarded individual commitments as a higher priority than group commitments, making me something of a loose cannon when I get involved with any group. My only defense of this seemingly self-absorbed attitude is that the metric I use when forming personal commitments is whether or not they would be practicable if universally adopted. For these reasons I am not suitable material for being a good warrior.

Gerard Vanderleun reposts one of the best vignettes he has ever written. If you haven't read it, by all means do so now. (Even if you have already seen it, you might want to read it again. Like a good piece of music, another production of Hamlet or yet another clip from Casablanca, I have no problem reading it again myself.) His story is everyman's story except that he says it better than others. Unlike most people he came to know the difference between having a name and being someone. Those two layers of identity are too often confused. By the end of life we are known more by what we do than how we are named. Then and only then does the name carry its fullest meaning. Not before. And as a name survives in a collective memory it will memorialize the one who left it behind.

One of the residents where I work takes great personal pride in a photo of a battleship from WWII, named for one of her nephews who went missing in action. No matter what he may have done or left undone in life, the circumstances of his premature death proved to be more enduring than anything else. It could be that he died childless and this battleship, likely in mothblalls by now, will be his most lasting memorial.

So on this Memorial Day I reflect on why this day is necessary. It is important not for those who have been lost, but for those of us who remain. It is important because we cannot imagine that those who pay the ultimate price are making no lasting purchase. It is important because others still alive will pay the same price. And it is unreasonable to expect they they, their loved ones and all who encourage them can allow themselves to contemplate alternatives. There may be a better way than war, but today is not the time to advance that idea.

- it is sweet and right to die for your country.

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