No One Should Die in a War/ There are Some Things Worth Dying For

Both Statements are True. Reflections on Memorial Day

About Memorial Day

Yesterday, many of us took some time to reflect on Memorial Day. Most of us likely did the usual things. We put out a flag in the morning. We reflected on those we knew and lost to combat. Perhaps we attended a Memorial Day service.

I did all three of those things. I was fortunate enough to attend an excellent Memorial Day service in my community. The homily was provided by a friend, Rev. Jeanne Finan. I mention this because Jeanne also writes one heck of a good blog – entertaining and informative. I recommend it heartily.

Memorial Day always brings to mind two conversational threads I have heard often through the years. They seldom share the same audience, and that is a shame. More on that shortly.

No One Should Die in a War

Truer words were never spoken. Doubly true for noncombatants, the innocent who die in the carnage of war. Some years I feel as though we take one step forward, some years one step back in our desire to become a species without violent conflict.

We are becoming, in general, wiser to the fact that wars often do not settle anything and that there are people who foster conflict for all the wrong reasons – most often to stay in power. Harder to change leaders when a life and death struggle is ongoing.

So, sign me up for some of that call to end wars whenever and wherever we can, and to avoid them in the first place if at all possible. Too many wars have been fought for rationales that make no sense. That is wasteful, cruel, and immoral.

And Yet…

There are Some Things Worth Dying For

This, too, is a true statement. At least it is in my view. I wish it were not necessary to be so, but at this point in our evolution as a species, this is the case. The hard reality is that there are people in charge of impressive armies and resources who mean serious harm to others and are willing to put the world at risk for a host of specious but powerful to them reasons.

To say that in the interest of peace we will bear no more arms is, sadly, an invitation to disaster. And in this league, there are no mulligans, no do-overs. Those not prepared to defend themselves and those they wish to help will quickly find no shortage of others ready to show them the cost of being unprepared.

Having lived in that environment for no small amount of time, I can tell you I would eagerly welcome a world without armed conflict. But we are not there yet, and until we are, it seems to me prudent and moral to be prepared to defend what we value. The US Army’s motto is This We Will Defend.  When necessary, seems the right call to me.

Two Separate Conversations?

 I have experienced both of these conversations many times, but almost always in separate settings. Rarely have I found the opportunity to sit with one group and say “Both of these statements are true. How do we honor one and move purposely toward the other?”

Without such two-part conversations, we are more likely to see each other as unrealistic peaceniks or immoral war mongers. I have friends in both groups. Neither are any of those things. We should do better by each other. Treating this as an either/or proposition is an insult to the complexity of human existence.

The faces of those I lost were with me all day yesterday. I bet that given the chance, they would say the same. They would say they fought with honor, took the risks with full understanding, and were ready to serve. And they would like another generation to not have to make those choices.

For those of us who wore the uniform, there is not much theoretical about all this. I have walked the paths in Arlington more often than I can remember. I have followed a horse drawn caisson more than once or twice. We understand the costs and the risks in the decisions we make – individually, as nations, as a species.

To those who say the choices are black and white, easily right or wrong, I would have to say that is a unique place where you live. It does not look very substantial from where I stand. There is hard work to be done if we are ever to get this right.

Shall We?

Are we big enough, smart enough, serious enough to honor those who served and sacrifice, honoring them in part by serious and sustained efforts to find better ways to settle our differences? I hope so.

Carl Sagan once reminded me that our time of existence as a species is remarkably short so far. It is certainly not assured that we will continue. Let’s make better use of the time and resources we have. Let’s do better with whatever time we have left to us.

                                           Bill Clontz

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