Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Few Thoughts on Memorial Day

Even when I was a child, I've never been filled with anything resembling a swelling sense of national pride when Memorial Day rolls around. Even before I became a Quaker I remember focusing a skeptical, cynical eye upon the rhetoric, the pageantry, and the pomp and circumstance that characterizes this holiday.

Perhaps I've always maintained a child's sensitive, literal view towards armed conflict: what a waste of life, money, and energy. How does killing other people solve our conflicts?

As I have gotten older, subsequent study of wars and military endeavors do not fill me with a kind of adrenalin joy. The reality of the situation is not a particularly beautiful notion. Unlike many, I do not need wars to feel better about myself. Indeed, wars make me feel worse about humanity and human nature. On the other hand, however, I enjoy reading up on military strategy. I enjoy second-guessing the decisions made during wars prior and I relish contemplating and charting the narrative progression of how previous conflicts have unfolded and resolved themselves.


It's interesting to contemplate how we incorporate often nonsensical, or at best dubiously logical rationalizations into our thoughts and judgments.

Wars are just. Wars are necessary. Wars unite us. Our enemy deserves to die. Wars thin out the population. The end justifies the means. It's either us or them. Carnage is justified. God is on our side.

These statements fly in the face of reason. If you'd believe the rhetorical flights of fancy perpetuated not just by our leaders, but by leaders throughout history, our enemies are devilish, 100% evil, and evidence of everything wrong with the world. We are supremely right, they are supremely wrong, and there is no in between.


I just don't buy it anymore.

"next to of course god america i
love you land of the pilgrims' and so forth oh
say can you see by the dawn's early my
country 'tis of centuries come and go
and are no more what of it we should worry
in every language even deafanddumb
thy sons acclaim your glorious name by gorry
by jingo by gee by gosh by gum
why talk of beauty what could be more beaut-
iful than these heroic happy dead
who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter
they did not stop to think they died instead
then shall the voice of liberty be mute?"
He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water

e.e. cummings, 1926

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