Sunday, May 25, 2008

Memorial Day

America sets aside one day each year to honor its citizens who served in the armed forces and grieve for those that died while serving.

We should all take a moment sometime during this sacred occasion and resolve to understand why we have wars in the first place. Presidential candidate John McCain said, "I hate to tell you but there are going to be more wars." I wish he had added, "But I will do my best to keep them to as few as possible." But he didn't and won't. I don't think he understands war or why they occur, but merely accepts them as inevitable. I want something different this Memorial Day...I want it to serve as a apology to all the victims of war and a day of resolution to avoid War as much as possible.

I am not a pacifist advocating concession in order to avoid war, but I am a realist who believes that war is an evil thing, fought most often for all the wrong reasons.

The modern world has seen wars fought over all manner of things, but mostly because rich and powerful people, or Countries, or Corporations nowadays, want to be richer and more powerful.

There are other reasons of course....There are wars fought for glory... There are wars fought because somebody got their ass kicked somewhere else and needs to beat somebody up to prove how strong they are... There are wars fought because "We're crazy and It's what we do"...There are wars fought over women...And then There are wars fought under the banner of ideology, which actually means those people have something we want and our god says we should go kill them and take it.

Some folks will say I've left out "Religion" as a cause of war, but I say that's just an excuse, not a reason. Feel free to disagree.

At any rate, when you sit down and look at it, there's not one single rational reason for war except for somebody not being rational. As a country, we're in the middle of one of those wars right now.

There will be speeches today and all sorts of ceremonies to make somebody look like they care. President George W. Bush will certainly make a nice speech which he will look out over the crowd and read with all earnesty, Then he will perform the symbolic act of walking away from the teleprompter, never giving his words another thought.

A strange commemorations will be the Rolling Thunder parade of thousands of motorcycles. They will assemble in the Pentagon parking lot and all ride together making a massive noise which is created by the burning of the very fossil fuel that our troops are dying for at this very minute. They will ride to the reflecting pool across from the Lincoln memorial. This is a fitting act to honor war, but not its victims.

And in that is a greater thought for this Memorial Day. Why don't we expand the meaning of Memorial Day and make it, not just in honor of the members of the armed forces who died, but in honor and remembrance of ALL the victims of war?

In Fahrenheit 9-11 there is a clip of an Iraqi man who picks up the body of a mutilated baby killed by American bombs. The child had been loaded into the back of a pickup truck which was full of bodies and the man is shouting at an American Soldier. He holds the baby up to the soldier and shouts emotionally..."Why are you doing this? Why did this baby have to die? What crime did this baby commit?"

That is the American war as we honor our dead.

I lost friends in the Viet Nam War, and somehow I felt guilty for not going. It's an odd guilt when I examine it. I did not evade the draft, go to Canada, or shoot my foot so that I would be designated 4F...unsuitable for combat. I simply wasn't drafted.

Every Memorial day for some reason I remember Johnny Bush, a kid from my town in Georgia who was killed in Viet Nam. I don't remember Johnny all that well now, but I remember his mother's face at the ceremony for Johnny. He died in a stupid war, fought for no good reason. We knew that at the time but did not have the courage to stop it.

We knew the Iraq war was stupid at the time, but did not have the courage to stop it.

We know the Iraq War is STILL stupid, even now...Do we have the courage? ...You and I?

Today is Memorial Day. I will honor the men and women who served, and the one's that died serving, in our Armed forces.

I will honor Johnny Bush, who died in Viet Nam.

I will honor his mother, who partly died at the same time.

I will honor the guy who lives in that trailer a few miles from here, who partly died in Viet Nam and never came all the way back.

And I will honor that baby...All the babies.




  1. Memorial Day Sonnet

    If Liberty means anything to me,
    I will remember what my freedom cost,
    By those who gave their all to keep me free,
    Whose lives were sacrificed, but never lost.
    I will remind myself of what they did,
    And keep them dearly cherished in my heart;
    Their honor never from me shall be hid
    And I will know they always did their part
    To save our nation and its people here,
    To pledge their lives in defense of our ways,
    To show that freedom always outlives fear,
    And sacrifice is hallowed all our days.
    If Liberty means anything to me,
    I will remember those who kept me free.

    © John Stuart 2008
    Pastor at Erin Presbyterian Church,
    Knoxville, Tennessee

  2. ...and the people said "Amen"

  3. Anonymous10:48 AM

    Do you really think that there's EVER been a war when someone couldn't do the exact same thing - i.e. hold up a dead baby and ask why the baby had to die? That didn't happen because it's an American war, or an Iraqi war, or a civil war, or a religious war, or any other KIND of war. It happened because it is a war.

  4. So...What's your point, Anon?

    But your statement isn't valid anyway. There have been a number of wars in American history where we went out of our way to avoid civilian casualties. There are those where we did't...The tragedies of Hiroshima and Dresden, for instance.

    Your statement would indicate that there is no choice...but there are two choices: Adhere to the Geneva conventions, and Don't start wars of aggression in the first place.

  5. Anonymous1:27 PM

    Statement isn't valid?... or doesn't agree with your ideology? Or is that what decides validity?

    I agree with your delineation of choices. But the fact remains - and is a "valid statement" - that there are NO wars where dead babies may not be held up. THAT'S my point. WARS KILL PEOPLE - whether they are babies or not. And wars kill people whether the combatants adhere to the Geneva Conventions or are wars of aggression or wars of defense.

    On any side, in any war, there are dead babies to be held up, and over whose bodies the question is asked, "Why did ths baby have to die?".

    It's not only the "unjust" war that had these dead babies to display, it's not only the "war of aggression" that produces infant corpses, it's not only a war adhering the the Geneva or some other "conventions"... it's ANY war.

    THAT'S my point.