Memorial Day is different than a normal memorial celebration might be. While those of us with Irish descent might choose to toast our departed friends, today means something else entirely. Today we remember those who have fallen to preserve our right to speak and live freely.
It is a somber day that has transformed over the years to be a day meant for picnics and revelry. Perhaps this year, more than ever, it is time for that to change. Let us remember those who willingly gave their lives so that we may be free; but not in such a way that diminishes their sacrifice. Rather than exploit our loss by rummaging through bargain sales at the nearest mall, let us pause – stoically – and reflect.
I will be at the American Canyon Memorial Day Ceremony today (11am Vets Park) honoring those who have fallen – both in and out of war. For war never fully relinquishes its hold on those who have served. Whether it’s the sailer who served in the mess hall (my great uncle) or the submariner who completed dangerous tours in the South Pacific during World War II (my grandfather who never spoke of his service) – most were haunted by what they saw, heard and the truths that they knew.
I minored in Politics with an emphasis in International Relations at UC Davis. I remember the theories of war – one of the principal ones being that war is merely an extension of relations between two countries. I think that brushes aside – too easily – the horrors of war. It’s always been most expedient for those of us who have not served to think in terms of real politik. It’s an academic exercise where we forget the human cost.
That’s why, this Memorial Day, I will cast aside the intellectual and focus on the humanity. Somewhere along the line we have let that go. We have forgotten the human cost of war on our own civilization. Lately, our first reaction is to fight – to fight to win and hurt the adversary without looking at peaceful alternatives. I understand the arguments for fighting fire with fire, an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth but I am also reminded of the great men before us who have argued for peace. Leaders beyond Ghandi and Dr. King.
General Douglas MacArthur gave a commencement address at West Point in 1962. Duty, Honor, Country. It is one of the greatest speeches ever in American History. MacArthur reminds us that:
On the contrary, the soldier above all other people prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war. But always in our ears ring the ominous words of Plato…”Only the dead have seen the end of war.”Duty, Honor, Country – Gen. Douglas MacArthur
And so maybe today, in that same vein, those of us who have never seen the horror of war will pray for peace – not only internationally but within our own country that seems to be tearing apart at the seams. I end these meandering thoughts with a poem from John McCrae, written for a fallen friend after the second battle of Ypres.