Written by David Hammer
As I left church the Sunday before Memorial Day, several people greeted me with the expression, “Have a happy Memorial Day.” Their intentions were good. Their awareness left much to be desired. How many of these same people, on walking into a funeral home to pay respects to a deceased neighbor, family member or friend, would say to the bereaved family, “Have a happy funeral?”
I found the greeting even more perplexing given that I had prayed that morning before the congregation, and had asked them to remember also those who returned from war with visible and invisible wounds and are struggling each day to reconcile what war did to them and their families. I also prayed that civilians would understand that the much too young and inexperienced men and women who are called by patriotism to serve, go for a high purpose. The great majority of these young solders honestly believe they are going into harm’s way to defend and ensure the values they hold dearest in our democratic republic.
I often ask lifetime civilians two questions when we are talking about the costs of war upon those who fight them. First – can you separate in your mind those who went from those who sent them? Second – of all the American presidents who served since World War II, what was the military background of the president who did the best job of keeping our young servicemen from dying on foreign soil? The answer to the second question is President Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander of the European invasion in World War II. The general who became president knew too well the horrors and costs of the battlefields into which he sent his troops. As president, he used his knowledge and power well and kept America out of war during the height of the cold war, and at time when emotion and patriotism were raw and pervasive.
Memorial Day is intended to be a national day of mourning convened specifically to honor the memories of those Americans who died fighting for their country. The day isn’t divided into parcels for those who died in “just or unjust” wars. It simply remembers those who were called, who served, and who died as a result of that service. As a nation, we seem to have forgotten the purpose of the day. Memorial Day now seems to be more symbolic of the first day of summer “after school is out,” and it’s a three day weekend. Have a great time!
My concern was somewhat alleviated when I read this morning that I’m not alone with my concern about the alteration of a day of mourning: http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/americans-memorial-day-lost-meaning-47689144
Memorial Day, if we were use it to the fullest of the intended purpose, might include taking the time to seriously ponder and discuss the complex and varied nuances of war. Then examine its causes, the effects and the long-term costs in human suffering as well as other national treasures. A serious study, discussion and learning could transform us as a people and a nation. The possible transformations include how we view our obligations as citizens and how we choose the politicians who decide when to go to war, why, against whom, and who goes do the fighting. How many currently serving politicians served in the military or have children who are serving. The answer should shock you.
A modest understanding of what soldiers, sailors and airmen do to survive combat surely should change most civilians’ ideas of what true leadership is. Electing a person to public office doesn’t automatically imbue that individual with leadership skills.
In this same context, I point to our current Secretary of Defense, retired Marine Corps General James Mattis. Mattis served numerous combat tours as a Marine. This quotation comes from an article by David French, and the source is below the quotation:
When I asked what worried him most in his new position, I expected him to say ISIS or Russia or the defense budget. Instead, he said, “The lack of political unity in America. The lack of a fundamental friendliness. It seems like an awful lot of people in America and around the world feel spiritually and personally alienated, whether it be from organized religion or from local community school districts or from their governments.”
I used this quotation because it is the heart of an article addressing America’s recent failure to honor veterans in the way they deserve. Veterans are the last to want to send someone else into the killing fields. And they know best that internal divisions in our country, failure to work together to solve common problems, and the polarization of our society will be the keys to a disunity and lack of national focus that will again send our young to fight wars of dubious value and problematic outcome.
If we choose to bring “all the way home” those who suffer from invisible wounds, we will find our own souls and spirits transformed through the mutual healing process. For civilians, an unanticipated consequence of bringing these veterans home would be that of transforming soldiers to warriors. Most people don’t understand what a true warrior is, or the role of society and culture in the shaping and maintenance of a warrior culture. They certainly don’t understand the importance of having true warriors in leadership and decision-making roles.