Saturday, June 5, 2010

“Beneath the beauty of the lilies lies the ugliness of war”

James Carroll and I often agree on many things, particularly when it comes to the waste, futility, absurdity, cruelty, calamity, and immorality of war. His writing often buttresses my thought. In a Memorial Day piece, “Remembering the heroes, victims,” he writes the same sentiment I express in “Thoughts and Reflections of Memorial Day 2010.” He writes, “Indeed, the most fitting tribute that can be paid to those who made the ultimate sacrifice is a full reckoning with what that sacrifice actually cost — not just the fallen and their families, but the larger community that was deprived of the social contributions they would otherwise have made.”

Of concurrent significance, are those American men and women wounded, disfigured and disabled both mentally and physically, some with horrifyingly invisible wounds, to whom we also owe our remembrance.

In addition, we immortalize America’s war dead without acknowledgement of what the military euphemistically calls “collateral damage.” The unintended deaths of men, women, and children who were innocent victims of war, who suffered unrecoverable wounds, and who were also deprived of their futures and the social contributions they would otherwise have made to their nation, communities, and families as well.

“Just because we necessarily make something noble of war, by thinking gratefully of those who served to the point of death, does not remove the indictment of what killed them.” James Carroll continues, “War is a crime. Among its victims are its heroes. Yet in the modern era, they have been vastly outnumbered by men, women, and children for whom war was only catastrophic, in no way valorous. Memorial Day belongs to that legion of the dead also.”

As James Carroll points out, perhaps war’s most unsung casualty, in this context, is the future. So, not only on Memorial Day, but Veterans Day or on any other day that we acknowledge the service of our veterans, it should also serve as a reminder of a world that might have been.

For “Beneath the beauty of the lilies” as James Carroll metaphorically puts it, “lies the ugliness of war.”

But every American in a certain sense is a casualty of war.

Every American has been encultured with the false belief that our wars have been fought to preserve our freedom. We have been hoodwinked into thinking that war is necessary because we fight against an evil of one kind or another guided by divine providence over which the United States has the sole authority and responsibility to eradicate. The guiding principle of American exceptionalism dictates “a moral certitude that the killing is just.”

If one is a realist, they understand that the United States has never fought a war to preserve American freedom (1). The American Revolution was fought to free the colonies from British rule, not necessarily to protect the colonist from the same oppression within. In 1781 the U.S. Constitution secured the lives, liberties and properties of affluent white men -- women, Native Americans, the indigent, and persons of color did not apply. It also provided for a strong central government with the power to tax and regulate commerce. As James Carroll explains, “The Civil War began, on the northern side, as a war for union, not abolition of slavery.” And as it has been with every war, it has been about expansionism (imperialism/colonialism) and consumptionism. Americans perceive their personal freedom from America’s ability to acquire access to greater resources, and their freedom confirmed when their insatiable quest for more is met. American freedom equates to greater personal power and control. James Carroll as well as I see “war as trading human life for power, profit, and glory.”

This is one of the major indictments of America to which James Carroll writes,:”[we must] remove the indictment of what killed them.” This requires a new way of thinking: a paradigm shift in perception and abandonment of ideology for the sake of humanity.

“The human longing for an end to war must be revivified generation in and generation out — not just as a dream, but as a mandate. The waste, futility, and cruelty of war must focus our perceptions of it.” – James Carroll

(1) Arguably, World War II might be considered by some as a war fought to preserve our freedom. However, the United States never entered the war in Europe and in the Pacific with the explicit motive of preserving our freedom. Japan was a member of the military alliance named the Axis Powers lead by Germany. With the attack on Pearl Harbor, we declared war on Japan. But that war was fought to prevent expansionism in the pacific and Asia. As a result of our declaration on a member state of the Axis, Germany declared war on us. We reluctantly fought that war with European allies to contain German expansionism (to preserve Europe’s territorial and economic freedom). F.D.R. never entertained, except maybe rhetorically, entering into war with the Axis Powers to preserve America’s freedom.