I experience mixed emotions on Memorial Day. Although I am morally opposed to violence and war, it does not trouble me to respect and honor those who gave their lives for what they deemed to be a worthy cause. Death is an inescapable finality. When it comes too soon it is tragic.
I find it difficult to extend respect and honor to the American Military as an institution. More and more, it seems that American military force is used to replace honest diplomacy, further America’s geo-political interests, and serve corporate interests. Human rights, if they enter the picture at all, serve as a pretext for economic and political interests. The hypocrisy shown in where and when American military force is used is staggering.
I realize that the world today is far from renouncing the use of violence as a legitimate means of settling differences. I also realize that while I decry America’s use of violence abroad, I benefit greatly from it. I enjoy America’s high standard of living that consumes resources at a greater level than most of the other inhabitants of our planet. American economic and military might preserves my lifestyle.
On Memorial Day, I willingly partake in sad reflection on the loss of life and devastation of war. I will try to avoid the military triumphalism that I often see displayed. Memorial Day is a time to mourn.
I will silence these conflicting thoughts that bounce around in my head. Instead, I will focus solemnly on those who died in the service of their country – for that is one of the tragedies of war. Those who died deserve to be remembered.
I will contemplate this poem by Thomas Hardy about a death in the Boer War far, a death so far from home.
Thomas Hardy, 1840 - 1928
They throw in Drummer Hodge, to rest
Uncoffined—just as found:
His landmark is a kopje-crest
That breaks the veldt around;
And foreign constellations west
Each night above his mound.
Young Hodge the Drummer never knew—
Fresh from his Wessex home—
The meaning of the broad Karoo,
The Bush, the dusty loam,
And why uprose to nightly view
Strange stars amid the gloam.
Yet portion of that unknown plain
Will Hodge for ever be;
His homely Northern breast and brain
Grow up a Southern tree,
And strange-eyed constellations reign
His stars eternally.