Memorial Day – Observe or Mourn?

Monday we observe, honor, celebrate (?), our military dead. I wrote last fall a little about my struggle with aspects of armed service given my leanings to non-violence. I am moved to tears each time I see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the somber USS Arizona where 1,102 men are entombed, and the vastness of Arlington National Cemetery. Clearly we need a strong defense. I would take up arms to protect my family and community from invasion.

So many wars and “conflicts”, however, are not about defending anything. Over 700,000 troops died during the civil war. Slavery was just one factor – economics and states’ rights (sound familiar ?) also were  important causes. WWII was seen as a “good war” because we were attacked, and the U.S. was instrumental in liberating Europe from Hitler.  Over 400,000 American troops died. Yet the number of dead soldiers does not begin to count the costs of war. Perhaps they are just they easiest to identify and quantify. This quote from former President Eisenhower, who was the Supreme Allied Commander of Allied Forces in Europe in WWII, has resonated with me for years: “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”

Peace to those who have lost loved ones fighting in armed conflict for our government. Strength to all who struggle for peace among nations.

Monday is not meant to be about barbeque, shopping, or outdoor fun. Take a little time to observe Memorial day in your own manner.

child at grave marker

Arlington National Cemetery

USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor

USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.

Afghani war widow

Afghani war widow

war orphans from sierra leone

Sierra Leone war orphans

Peaceful Hopes For Veterans Day

Veterans Day has always provoked internal conflict for me. As an avowed peacenik who believes all war is immoral, today I honor the storied history of my family in arms.  My father and father-in-law served in World War II. My dad-in-law miraculously survived the largest sea battle in the Pacific. My uncle fought as a Marine in Korea and returned to his family a hardened man. My life-partner was in the first group of women officers (non-WAC) to be commissioned in the regular army. She left service at the rank of major to pursue her dream of becoming a physician. My cousin was yanked from his post riding and caring for ceremonial Army horses to invade Iraq in Operation Desert Storm. They all gained and gave aspects of themselves for their country. I am proud of their service, especially on this day.

America’s rush to solve conflict with weapons, the monies we spend on “defense”, the toll that war takes on the bodies and minds of soldiers and civilians, all trouble my soul. I have resolved my November 11th cognitive dissonance that occurs from pride in family and those who serve with my commitment to peace in this way: I emphasize the roots of the American holiday – world peace.

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, hostilities of World War I ceased. In November of 1919, President Wilson proclaimed the date as Armistice Day:

“To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.”

Even a Congressional resolultion in 1926, which stopped short of making November 11 a national holiday, included this wording:

Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations;

By 1938, November 11 became a legal holiday to commemorate those who fought in World War I and a day dedicated to world peace. In 1954, Armistice Day was renamed Veterans Day to honor all those who served or serve in the armed forces.

Our commitment to world peace as a country is not a priority. That does not mean I cannot devote time today to remember my commitment to peace while I thank my family members for their service.

11/11/1918 Philadelphia

My Dad, circa 1944