To recognize, honor and mourn the lives lost and broken in Iraq, we gathered together at a church. Before the service, we held a candlelight vigil outside. We stood talking to one another or in silent reflection, thinking or speaking of the troops when a woman in a passing car shouted, “You’re all traitors.”
We were parents of children in the military and veterans who “served their country” gathered in memory of troops lost and the wish that no one’s children would any more have to give their arms, their legs, their lives or their souls as grist to the war machine. And we are traitors!?
Later during the service, we each took a pinch of salt on our tongue as a reminder of the bitterness and discomfiture of war. Mixing salt with water, our speaker reminded us that we all should, like salt dissolving into water, seek union with all people because we are inextricably linked by the same basic needs.
Finally, he referred to the woman in the car — asking, “Why is there such a strong negative reaction when we speak of peace?” War, he said, is seen as the means by which one can demonstrate love of country; a place to be brave and heroic; a way to protect our freedom from threat. Peace is seen as weakness; failure to defend the nation and its honor.
He’s right. Peace holds no romance. Peace marchers don’t have flags, marching bands, bright shiny medals or guns to carry on shoulders like chips to show how strong we are. We don’t offer fields of mortal danger against which the young can test their mettle.
History includes stories of King and Gandhi and Christ. But for most folks their strengths pale beside the martial heroics of George Washington, Sam Houston, Sgt. York, George Patton, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
If some German citizen in 1935 had shown the strength of a Gandhi, there might have come a time when she stood out as starkly as that unknown Chinese man who blocked the tanks in Tiananmen Square. She might have stood in some Berlin street and called the world’s attention to Hitler’s having gone too far in stealing freedom and persecuting people. Then perhaps that war would have been short circuited and the world known peace instead of the horror of WWII. But had that been the case, would the world hold parades each year to recognize her courage? Not a chance.
We can’t celebrate avoiding catastrophe because we can’t grasp the gravity of what has not happened. But we can wave our flags. We can march. And we can blow our bugles in victory parades when, after all the bloodshed, we drag ourselves home, weary from the rigors of war and proud to have once again saved freedom from the scourge of tyranny.
Never mind that tyranny only waits behind the next flag. Never mind that the last bugle blown always calls “Taps”.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.