Monday, May 31, 2004

Memorial Day

It is Memorial Day here in the United States. It is a day when we honor our soldiers who have died at war. At least that's the principle. The truth of the matter is that, during most years, it's sort of an unofficial start of summer where people enjoy a long weekend and take the opportunity to have barbecues and to go see the inevitable major motion picture release.

I suspect that, this year, more people are going to be thinking about the real intention of the holiday. It is a sad fact that we are at war in Iraq. It is a controversial war. Many consider it a dishonerable war while others insist that it is a just and even necessary war. I will not speak to that issue. Memorial Day is not a day for us to celebrate war but to honor those who have been lost at war. It is an observance that I believe both pacifists and hawks can acknowledge and respect.

It is a naïve thing to suppose that all soldiers are good people. There are dishonerable soldiers just as there are dishonerable people in every other walk of life. We have seen an especially egregious breach of honor in the hell-pit that is Abu Ghraib. The actions of those involved is indisputably abbhorent. Never the less, it is equally naïve to suppose that all soldiers are monsters and madmen.

I believe that the majority of people who fight in wars would rather be anywhere else. I have heard it said that, when one is in a combat zone, the issues of ideology, politics and morality fade before the simple necessities of trying to survive. War is a base venture and it does lead to base acts. It also leads to acts of heroism and self-sacrifice that stand in stark contrast to the hellishness of it.

If I have one problem with Memorial Day, it is that we only honor our dead and that we only honor soldiers. I believe that we should consider this a time to reflect upon all of the death that war creates. War is an evil. There may be times when it is a necessary evil. We may well embrace the necessity at such times but we should never lose sight of the evil. To do so would be to truly dishonor the dead.

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