Thoughts triggered by Decoration Day
Hello. Today is one of our more sensible, and I think, important though undervalued, holidays. So of course, that got me thinking about war. Humans have always been at war, even our evolutionary ancestors, like homo Neanderthal, and homo erectus. And even our non-homo relatives: chimpanzees, monkeys fought wars, and even engaged in genocide. And wolves: all these animals behaved, albeit in smaller groups, very much like archaic and modern sapiens. I am a pacifist; I am a vegetarian. My Uncle Paul was a conscientious objector completely during Viet Nam; he is a vegan (I couldn’t do that: I’d eat my shoes first), and a kindly, deeply spiritual man. I always think of Pete Seeger’s song: I’m going to lay down my sword and shield down by the river side . . . I ain’t gonna study war no more.”
Yet there are many reasons and words for war, on both sides. I haven’t really counted how many words there are for war and violence; I think there are fewer for peace. Pete Seeger says in a song that when he’s dead, he won’t able to join the fight; but he’s talking about fighting for justice, and freedom and equal human rights, etc. It’s a different kind of war, with songs, and marches, and civil disobedience.
But, other wars, like the one Seeger protested, the fighting is the taking of human life with bloody hands and guns and bombs and slave labor camps and death camps and zyklon B and Agent Orange and mustard gas—the list goes on and on. Starvation. Disease.
Yet, if you asked both sides, “what are you fighting for?” both sides would say similar things: better lives for our families; enough food to eat; freedom to speak my mind; freedom to worship as I choose; a good education for all; financial equality; –lots of reasons. Of course, some reasons, such as the NAZIs fighting for a pure Aryan race by exterminating all Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, roma are not viable. It’s not the kind of things everyone fights for.
Then again, back to the Civil War, the Confederates were fighting for the right to own human beings—SLAVES—treat them any way they wanted, by overwork, no medical care, no education (too dangerous),
raping the women, selling slaves and when doing so, examining them like a horse, and trying to breed better, stronger animals. Blacks were not humans. These were heinous, and evil acts and motivations, the slave owners no better, no different than the NAZIs. But the soldiers on both sides were commandeered and threatened with their lives if they didn’t do as ordered. Would I have been willing to refuse to fight if I knew I was going to be shot to death, or hanged?
Young men fought on both sides, but mostly because they were forced to do so. They weren’t the responsible ones; they had nothing. And so I’m glad to remember the source of Memorial Day: Decoration Day. And the fullness of heart that enabled generations to remember both sides of the war:
laying flowers on the graves of both the blue and the gray. And hoping not to study war no more.
But there seems to be no hope.
And look at the world today. Where does it end?
I pray, “shalom.”