Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day--what are we Remembering?

Once again,  we are offered an opportunity to glorify war.  Sad, sad, sad that young people have died in war, and will continue to do so.  Some were heroes, some villains, some neither, like most human beings. Why they fought in wars varies as much as the people themselves---drafted? poor and needed that steady employment? truly believed in the cause? all of the above, i'd think, and a lot of other noble, ignoble, and ordinary reasons.

Did they die for Me, as the propaganda insists?  Maybe in World War 2.  Maybe many soldiers  since then have truly believed they were dying for the rest of us.  But I was born at the end of world war 2, and the wars fought in my lifetime have done nothing for me or anyone else i can think of, except for the rich  and powerful of every country. Soldiers  killed and died. Civilians simply died--from invasion, from toxins in the air [and i remember Agent Orange when i remember war], from starvation when their lands were gutted. Soldiers who survived the war, who survive today's incredibly lingering wars, came home with physical and emotional traumas that have ruined their lives, often creating suicides that make them no less war victims than those killed in battle.

so yes, i will remember those in the military who died in war--whether they were Americans or not, allies or 'the enemy.' and i will remember the thousands upon thousands of ordinary people who died in, and of war in its aftermath. I will remember hiroshima and nagasaki. i will remember pacifists jailed and beaten for refusing to fight. i will remember phil ochs, who sang the songs we needed to hear in the 1960s--"I Ain't Marchin' Any More."  I will remember the blessedly-still-with-us Pete Seeger, who continues to sing for those of us who oppose war.

And i will remember--roll out the drums, folks; the lady's gonna say a bad thing--a young movie star who opposed the war and who recognized the humanity of all people, including those whom the US government was killing.  So she posed in Hanoi with North Vietnamese soldiers--young men, who, like the young men that were attacking them--were fighting for many reasons and who might well die in the fighting.  Jane Fonda was condemned mightily at the time, and has remained condemned for it ever since.  She sat on a large cannon, where someone had placed her, and attacked the war [not the US soldiers] on Vietnam.

That she has chosen to apologize for this again and again in later years saddens me.  But i remember that she once defiantly insisted on the humanity of those soldiers, those frail human beings who would die defending their country just as the american soldiers, then and now, have died in the belief they were defending theirs.  I will remember those soldiers too, sitting with the famous movie star around that cannon, that ghastly death machine.

And finally I will remember--I have no choice but to remember--a young  American man who was drafted and went to fight in Vietnam, although, miraculously, because he was a good typist, never had to fight.  Instead, he lived out the war in relative comfort, next to an area the U.S. government was spraying with a "harmless" substance they said would kill crops, but not people [though how people with no crops were meant to eat was never explained]. Only as it turned out, it wasn't harmless, and countless numbers of Vietnamese died of an incredible array of diseases caused by that substance,  called Agent Orange.  So did many, many Americans who returned, apparently safely, from that war.  Was my brother's cancer decade or so later caused by his exposure to Agent Orange?  We'll never know, but it's certainly likely that such a toxic substance played its part in his disease.  He was sure by the end of his life that this was case, and his widow received some of the compensation funds reluctantly paid by the manufacturers of Agent Orange.

Keith died proud of his sister, the anti-war marcher, and urged me to continue the fight against the war. Thus [as we all mourn our own dead first] I write this, knowing i will change nothing; that as I write, Americans and Afghanis and Iraqis and so many others around the world, are dying in wars that need not happen--I write this now because over thirty years ago, Keith asked me to keep protesting.  So i protest, i mourn...and i remember.


e7f228c6-d9f6-11e1-8c06-000f20980440 said...

this is lovely. keep fighting - to honor your brother and because war IS wrong.

Jim Lehmer said...

Well said. Thanks for saying it.