It’s Memorial Day, a holiday with some paradoxical associations for me. As a school kid it meant the real beginning of summer, and with its extra day off the end of the school year, usually brought a picnic and family time. Reared in a family with pacifist religious beliefs, the military association was lost on me until years later.
As I studied American and world history the pictures I got about war were horrifying and the ramifications deeply disturbing. And although I certainly don’t claim to know what all the realistic alternatives to war are, I wish that we as members of the human race would dedicate our efforts and resources to figuring it out.
The physical, emotional and social ramifications of surviving war have been brought home to me in working with the family members of enlisted military personnel and returning soldiers. As well as the professionals in the trenches of treating the wounded warriors who are weary and traumatized as well. Those facing a long recovery of PTSD and the ones who love them and are trying to hold the marriage and family together need all the help and support they can get. And too often that help and support is in ridiculously short supply. Too little too late.
I have to confess to feeling angry, sad and helpless about this. And when I hear the platitudes of Memorial Day repeated, I also confess to a sort of disconnect. They really don’t make any sense to me.
I don’t think those who are killed and maimed and traumatized are helped by our ceremonies and flag waving. I think those ceremonies and platitudes help us feel better about our passive acceptance of a system of thinking gone seriously awry.
Can you imagine what might transpire if we could change this paradigm? What might happen if the governments of the world would direct a portion of their military spending to understanding and treating the problems that underlie conflicts that lead to war?
Can you imagine what might happen if we as ordinary people were to begin to question and search for answers to these problems and to expect those who represent us to do the same? What if we were to look beneath the fear that leads to aggressive knee-jerk reactions? What if we didn’t need to repeat the platitudes to mask our fear and sadness over what has happened?
I like to imagine that we had several generations of young people who didn’t have a war to attend. And that Memorial Day was a distant memory of the old people. And that there was a more light and lovely way to usher in the summer.