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This Memorial Day
May 25, 2012 - Stephen Browne
The run-up to this Memorial Day has been interesting to say the least.
As Independent readers can see, I interviewed a Korean War veteran who has been living with the injuries of that war with the support of his wife and family, since he came home in 1955. A remarkable man who persists in the face of adversity and remains cheerful.
I also went grave-hunting for the resting place of two veterans of the war of 1812 who are buried in Lyon County. I had no idea! And it's a little embarrassing to admit it had totally escaped my notice that this is the bicentennial year of the war that gave us our national anthem.
I also found the grave of a veteran who over a military career spanning 22 years fought in the Florida War (or Second Seminole War,) the Mexican War, the Sioux Uprising, and the "War of Rebellion." I have no idea is his service in the army was continuous or whether he just "marched to the sound of the drums" when he heard the call.
Looking into the background of the holiday, I found that it started out after the Civil War and was first called Decoration Day. And very touchingly, the first known celebration of its kind was May 1, 1865 when newly-freed slaves gathered to honor the Union dead in Charleston, North Carolina.
I learned that memorial days were observed locally to honor the Confederate or Union dead, but as early as April 25, 1866, women in Columbus, Mississippi laid flowers at the graves of the war dead regardless of which side they'd fought for.
I also got into a heated discussion online, that degenerated into childish insults when I said the yes indeed, the Civil War was all about slavery (And how do I know? Because they said so themselves!) And caused great consternation when I suggested that nothing we do or don't do is likely to end the scourge of war.
Saying that is taken by too many people as arguing for war, and it's fashionable these days to be "against war."
Smug self-righteous nonsense. Only a lunatic is "for" war.
“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity,” said Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander in Europe World War II.
The sixth century Byzantine general Flavius Belisarius, considered by some military historians to be the greatest field commander in history, said, “All men with even a small store of reason know that peace is chiefest of blessings.”
Does anyone think their moral authority to condemn war is greater than these men? It takes two parties negotiating in good faith to preserve peace. War can be started by just one.
I heard personal stories of meeting disabled veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, with the implied accusation that if I could have that experience I'd be a pacifist - as if I hadn't known anyone wounded, crippled, killed in war.
"A country like ours, possessed of immense territory and wealth, whose defense has been neglected, cannot avoid war by dilating on its horrors, or even by a pacific display of pacific qualities, or by ignoring the fate of victims of aggression elsewhere," said Winston Churchill.
We, the civilians of this generation, while paradoxically farther removed from our contemporary wars than our grandparent's generation, are more exposed to the horrors of war than they.
Modern media brings the war to us in real time, and has grown beyond the ability of the government to censor and sanitize what we see of it.
Modern military medicine saves more wounded than ever before. In the horrors of a Civil War surgery, the most severely maimed did not survive. Today more than ever before are coming home, with the evidence of their maiming for us to see.
"If you would have peace, prepare for war," said Flavius Vegetius, author of the oldest military manual.
But how can we ask our young people to prepare for war, how can we ask them to fight wars, after they've seen what happens to some who do?
The same way we always have. Set aside a day to honor those who prepared for war, those who fought the wars, and those who fell in them.
Have a good Memorial Day.
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