Two Memorial Day Reflections

Here are two Memorial Day reflections. I’ll just post the quotes, without commenting on them in depth. At the outset, let me say that I agree with the first reflection, whereas I agree and disagree with the second one.

1. I read the first reflection in an AP article: Memorial Day compromise. It quotes lines from President Obama’s Memorial Day address:

Why in an age when so many have acted only in pursuit of narrowest self-interest have the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines of this generation volunteered all that they have on behalf of others. Why have they been willing to bear the heaviest burden? Whatever it is, they felt some tug. They answered a call. They said “I’ll go.” That is why they are the best of America. That is what separates them from those who have not served in uniform, their extraordinary willingness to risk their lives for people they never met.

2. The second reflection is from Bill Moyers’ Journal (see here):

Finally, this week, my friend Louis Bickford spends his days, and often his nights, on the healing and prevention of atrocities and crimes against humanity. Cruelty, horror, and misery are part of his portfolio at the International Center for Transitional Justice, along with the power of memory.

On The Huffington Post, Louis has an essay in which he says that Memorial Day is meant to remind us of the hardship of war. But he goes on to ask, “What does it mean to choose how to remember?” What does it say about us, for example, if “…we choose to remember the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, more in terms of heroism than error…” This, he reminds us, is the “…tendency of all nations.”

Louis got me to thinking that when we meditate on war this weekend–our recent wars that is–will we overlook the suicides? Sweep under history’s rug the recent murder in Iraq of five American soldiers by a comrade who may have been driven mad by the horrors around him? Will we forget the death from friendly fire of a Pat Tillman and the shameful cover-up by the brass, including the role of the very general who now heads our operations in Afghanistan?

What of all those villagers killed by drones remotely fired in our name? Why aren’t they part of the narrative we tell ourselves about war? Louis Bickford wonders if we’ll ever remember, “…that there was a place called Abu Ghraib on the dusty outskirts of Baghdad, and that torture took place there, for which we were responsible?” After all, he says, it was the complicity of Republicans, Democrats, journalists and lawyers–some of them scholars–that allowed us to ignore international and American law prohibiting torture.

Over some 40 years now it has seemed to me that as time goes by we tend to remember wars, and the suffering they bring, as if they were inevitable, natural acts of history, rather than politically inspired choices. But war, as was famously said, is politics by another means–the lethal legacy of failed leadership, enabled, even ennobled, by propaganda, the partisan opiate of politics. It is good to be reminded, as my friend Louis so eloquently reminds us, that war is too important to forget, and that’s one reason to observe Memorial Day. There is another–to hold before our face a mirror, so that we might see the images of war reflected in our own eyes.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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