There is a different kind of silence
Among those who are gathered
When Taps is played.
And, like happened again this morning,
I stand with my head bowed
And tears in my eyes.
It is important to remember
Those who have lost their lives.
Or, some part of them.
And the heart wrenching, heartbreaking
Cost of war.
To Bloody Ridge
To Khe Sanh
To Tora Bora.
But, it is a fine line
Between remembering and honoring
Those whose lives were lost
And glorifying war.
I have never been there
But I trust those who have and who remind us
That war is hell.
And, I think, always a failure.
A failure to find another way
Until no other way seems possible
And more names are added to the list
Of those who have died.
The Vietnam War went from 1955 until 1973.
The Iraq War went from 2003 until 2011.
The war in Afghanistan began in 2001 and is just now winding down.
In between there was the war in Granada and the first war in Iraq.
For well over half my life our country has been engaged in an armed conflict which cost both money and lives. While it has been more than half my life, the experience/reality of anyone 21 years old or younger is of being a citizen of a country that is at war.
One can argue that there were good reasons for any and all of these conflicts, but one also has to acknowledge that the three major conflicts in my lifetime – Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan – which covered nearly 40 year, did not accomplish the expressed goals which led to our involvement in the first place.
Which makes one wonder.
At least, it makes me wonder.
Maybe there could be another way.
I am far, far from being an expert in any of the areas related to international policy and diplomacy and so my musing are just that. My musings. But it seems to me we view and treat the military in the same way we do the police. As the “catch all” response for any issue which arises.
It is an easy choice.
Both are there.
Both are organized.
Both are trained to respond.
We have invested heavily in both.
Are they always the correct “tool” for the situation?
I think our experience of the last 70 years would say “No.”
Einstein’s definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. While those more knowledgable than I would point out the differences and the nuances of these wars, sitting here today, watching what is unfolding in Afghanistan, it certainly feels eerily similar to what I have seen before. So, maybe it is time to seriously think about and to find another way.
I came of age during the Vietnam War.
The daily death count at the end of the evening news each day.
I cried the first time I walked along the Vietnam Memorial
on the National Mall in Washington, DC.
A few were of young men I knew.
We should honor their service.
And the service of others.
We should wrap the families who still grieve in our care and concern.
We should also wrap our care and concern around those whose names do not appear on that wall or on other memorials or plaques in nearly every town or village in our nation because many of them still carry the scars of those wars.
We should honor their service, but not glorify the wars they fought.
That line, between honor and glorification, is subtle and very easy to cross.
War is hell.
We forget that fact at our own peril.
And, war is a failure.
A failure of our shared humanity.
And, of our ability to find a better way.
So, this Memorial Day
Let us remember.
And rededicate ourselves to finding a better way.
The same tone of voice.
Different, but the same smiling faces.
Seen each day on the evening news.
From Pensacola to Portland and everywhere in between.
60 second sound bytes of this happening and that.
The next door neighbor.
The other side of the tracks.
Often linked together with “Up next…” to tease you into not changing the channel.
This time it was “Up next, the weather.”
But it was the prior news sound byte which caught my attention and made the typical transition so stark. The news had been about escalating tensions between our country and Iran with the final statement before the comment about the weather report coming next being something like “moving us one step closer to war.”
“One step closer to war.”
“Up next, the weather.”
The same tone of voice.
The same smiling faces.
How did they do it?
Say what they did with a smile on their face?
Have we lived with the notion of being at war for so long that it has become a 60 second sound byte said with a smile?
18 year olds who will vote in our 2020 elections have never lived in our country when it was not at war somewhere. Iraq. Afghanistan. For the newscasters to deliver their line as they did makes it clear that they have never experienced war. Or lost a brother or a sister or a husband or a wife to our never ending conflicts. Otherwise they would have choked on their words. Choked on the thought that another 18 year old or 28 year old would be placed in harm’s way. Choked on the reality that for someone their doorbell would ring and they would receive the news none of us would ever want to hear. And that says nothing about the families caught in between. Families just like yours and mine with nothing different about us except where we happen to live.
Maybe we don’t cringe at the news because the possibility and reality of war affects so few of us. Only 7% of the population. Most of us don’t know someone who has served in the military. Most of us don’t know someone who has been deployed for a year and then come home and then deployed again. And, again. And, again. Most of us don’t know. If we did we would not say those words with a smile. We would not transition to the weather forecast. We might even demand something more.
On this Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend…
Let us pray for any and for all who have lost their lives in any conflict.
Their names remembered on bronze plaques
And marked by crosses or stars or crescents that line far too many fields.
Let us pray for all the mothers who have lost a son.
And fathers who have lost a daughter.
And brothers who have lost a sister.
And children who have lost a parent.
And, let us pray for our country.
Our fellow countrymen and women.
Those who are doing well and those who are not.
And, let us give thanks for freedom.
The freedom to go where we please.
To worship as we please.
To have a voice in deciding those who will govern.
And to express our own point of view.
And let us pray for ourselves.
For if we take God at God’s word and claim our place among the People of God we are called to something more. And even though we can’t quite see it, we are to live, work, speak, dream our way towards that day which may almost be now…
When the lion lies down with the lamb.
When swords will be transformed into plows.
And spears into tools to harvest food enough for all.
And when we will be named as peacemakers and because of that be known as the children of God.
For, if not us, O God, then who?
And if not now, O God, then when?
One the second Tuesday of every month a group of us gather at a local restaurant to talk about the issues of the day. Sometimes local. Sometimes national or international. Most of the topics we discuss emerge from the headlines in the news, but our conversation last night was a bit different. The selected topic was the relationship of one’s faith to serving in the military. The conversation quickly expanded to include protecting oneself and protecting one’s family and the purpose and place of war and on what grounds, if any, is war justified and following orders when the orders you are given conflict with your values. None of us ever served in the military or been in any of the situations we imagined so our conversation was hypothetical as it bounced back and forth around the table. Multiple points of view were expressed with each of us saying not only what we think we might do in certain situations, but how we connected that to our understanding of God and to what we believe.
I enjoy our Tuesday evening conversations.
And, I enjoyed last night’s conversation because I walk away appreciating a point of view I had not considered before.
But, as is often the case for me, the conversation around the table lead to additional thoughts on the drive home. Last night’s after hours reflection was about the nature of faith and the place of values. What I began to put words around is that faith and values are always larger than what I am able to live out in my daily life. They are a way of living and being and treating others towards which I strive. And, around which I continually fall short. The temptation when I do fall short (which is multiple times each day!) is to justify my actions by adding exceptions what I believe.
In this case…
If they had not acted like that…
I really didn’t have a choice…
Those exceptions allow me to justify my actions and to maintain a sense of myself as a good person. But maybe leaning on those exceptions is both an excuse and a mistake. Maybe what is important is the dis-ease and the guilt and the honest realization that I have not lived up to the values I hold dear. I have compromised that which is bigger and more.
Maybe an example would help.
My faith tells me life is sacred and that God’s intention is that we live in peace.
That being the case, then war is wrong.
It is awful.
It kills people, both combatants and non-combatants.
It demonizes the enemy and sacrifices lives.
And, is always the result of a whole series of choices that build to that moment of the first shot or the first bomb. When we find ourselves at the moment of choosing to go to war, we attempt to justify it by resorting to something like the just war theory or saying God is on our side.
What if we were more honest.
What if we said what we are doing is wrong and lived with the weight of that.
What if we acknowledged we made mistakes leading up to that moment or we did not have the courage or resolve to find another way.
All this from last night’s conversation and the car ride home.