Friend and author Peter Altschul sent me this a while ago.
I am sharing it with you.
I hope you’ll share this with others.
A Memorial Day Meditation
May 28, 2018
On a 1969 late-summer Cape Cod day, I was slouching in the back seat of a car that an adult was driving to various places to get those needed errands done. Suddenly, the adult shouted, “Go kill some more Vietnam babies!”
“What?” I asked, startled out of my self-absorption.
“Some soldier is hitch-hiking,” the adult spluttered. “But there’s no way in hell I’ll give him a ride.”
And off she went on another tirade against the United State’s involvement in Vietnam’s civil war.
Once again, I allowed this anti-Vietnam war tirade to wash over me, but I couldn’t quite retreat to my twelve-year-old self-absorption. For I sensed that shouting at a stranger to kill more Vietnamese babies crossed some sort of unfairness line.
That night, while lying in bed, I began to convert this sense into a concrete thought: that we knew nothing about the soldier trying to get a ride from us. Maybe he wasn’t in Vietnam at all, but if he was, he might have been doing something that didn’t require him to shoot anyone. Or maybe he had killed people planning to kill him. And as I listened with a more adult ear to the coverage of the protests against the war, I began realizing that our primary complaint should be against those civilian government leaders who forced young men without wealth or connections to go to Vietnam to kill or be killed instead of those soldiers doing the killing.
Over the years, I have met veterans of various wars who, while often ambivalent about the reasons why they were sent into battle, talked about how their experiences shaped them into compassionate, self-directed adults. One became a doctor after serving as a medic, sometimes under fire. Another became part of a leadership team of an organization trying to reduce the recidivism rate of offenders recently released from prison. Many others have become business and community leaders.
I have also met a couple of veterans whose contact with wars resulted in serious physical and psychological wounds, and I have heard about many more. Many will recover through a combination of grit and support from family, fellow vets, doctors, and therapists, but some will end up homeless, in jail, or dead.
As we celebrate another day memorializing the deaths of those who have died to make it a bit easier for us to pursue life, liberty, and happiness, I hope that we civilians will remember that war, while sometimes necessary, embodies the worst within each of us.
For war shows our inability or unwillingness to do the work necessary to love instead of hate; to build up instead of destroy; and to support life over death.
I also hope that we remember that the inhumanity of soldiers reflects our own inhumanity.
And that once started, wars are hard to stop.
In honor of Memorial Day, below is a link to a performance of Daniel Elder’s “Elegy,” a choral piece resetting the text of “Taps,” that bugle call honoring fallen soldiers. I hope you might this piece as hauntingly beautiful as I do.