This is the Memorial Day that will not be happening. But most of what Memorial Day is about is words: words that are spoken at gravesites and written words read from time-honored tributes to America’s fallen heroes. For this year, in lieu of graveside gatherings, flag foldings and gun salutes, we offer the following very personal words.
I am a pacifist, not a card-carrying idealist, but someone who believes the best way to end war is to never start or fight one. I am a pacifist who salutes all our veterans, and I pray for the safe return of all our current soldiers and military men and women. I not only honor their sacrifices, but I respect their reasons for becoming soldiers in the first place. I always attend Memorial Day ceremonies. In the kind of world we have been living in for too long, us pacifists might not be alive without the security of a nation’s armed forces. Isn’t why we fight wars to win the peace?
World War I was called the “war to end all wars.” Then came World War numeral two. Some think we’ve never been closer to a World War III than right now.
Let’s just say pacifism has yet to become a dominant doctrine. I challenge anyone to show me a war since fighting Hitler in Europe and Imperial Japan in the Pacific that was necessary in the defense of our country or the advancement of freedom. But I admit there are probably convincing arguments to prove me wrong.
I was draft age during the Vietnam War, and I was prepared to refuse to enlist or be conscripted. (I received a student deferral and was a father.) I had schoolmates and close friends who died in Vietnam and many others who came home scarred, embittered, silent, wounded, changed, violent and sometimes repentant with deep, deep sorrows. None of us ever talked about the war but some joined me in the many anti-war protests and street marches.
The Vietnam War was a tragedy, not just for my wounded friends but also for our whole nation. I think that is now accepted as a historic truth. I believe we will open future history books and read that the Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan wars were all tragic mistakes as well.
I think our nation lost a sense of innocence and nobleness after the Vietnam War. During World War II we believed what Roosevelt, Truman and General Eisenhower told us about the necessity of individual and national sacrifice. While fighting the spread of communism in Southeast Asia we found out the McNamara, LBJ, Westmoreland and the other generals all lied to us. Even a pacifist might agree a war to defend truth and morality could be necessary, but never one defended by lies.
During our Vietnam War protests we always said we were opposed to the war and not the warrior. I know I sincerely meant that and that is why I take part in each year’s Memorial Day and Veterans Day services. I almost always shed tears and I am joined by aging war veterans who have told me that they hate war more than I do.
And, now we have come to a time when our country no longer resembles the great nation that brought lasting peace to the world after World War II. We, as a people, look hopelessly divided in our politics and principles. Our government is torn nearly in two and is led by a man I am sure almost none of us would follow into a war.
My profoundest sorrow on this Memorial Day when I think of my friends who died in Vietnam and all of our other soldiers buried in their graves is that they did not die for a nation ruled by fear, with rising racial divides, obliterated norms, demeaned civil servants, denial of scientific facts and a constant, blatant offense against the truth that makes past Vietnam War liars seem almost petty fibbers.