Memorial Day serves as a reminder that “beneath the beauty of the lilies lies the ugliness of war.” This James Carroll metaphor perfectly captures the most profound meaning of war, and of all the things lost because of it.
June 8th, 2007, was a beautiful sunny Friday morning. Yellow ribbons and the “Red, White, and Blue” adorned buildings, tree trunks, poles, and the hands and clothing of men, women, and children. Families and friends, members of the U.S. Military, the Patriot Guard Riders, and politicians lined the streets for as far as one could see waiting for the hearse carrying Matthew Bean to his final resting place.
Matthew lost his life on May 31, 2007 as a result of wounds suffered while serving in Iraq. On May 19, 2007, a sniper shot him during a door-to-door search for three missing members of his unit in the Sunni Triangle.
Matthew, a member of the 10th Mountain Division, received the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, and an Army Commendation Medal. Pretty ribbons and glistening medals are not satisfactory recompense for a man’s life, for taking away a man’s future and all he could have been. That’s what Mathew’s final homecoming and Memorial Day seems to be. Imbuing Americans with the “pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war."
However, in the sense that Americans like to think of Memorial Day, Mathew is the very essence of a war hero. Matthew, and all those who lost their lives in war, gave all they had with courage, nobility of purpose, as they understood it to be, and sacrificed their lives for it.
It’s appropriate that a day be set aside to honor Mathew and those who gave their lives in military service to their country.
But, Memorial Day, originally and appropriately named Decoration Day, was never intended to be a celebration.
Nevertheless, if families and friends take advantage of Memorial Day to get together, enjoy a parade and each other’s company with barbecues or other events, that’s appropriate too.
It’s all appropriate as long as we remember why there is a Memorial Day, and acknowledge the real loss that lies under all those graves decorated with flowers and flags. For the reality is that collectively we are responsible for the sacrifice Mathew, and so many others, made. The sacrifices and heartbreaks of families and children because of the loss of a loved one, as well as those who brought the “shadows of battle back home.” But we need to acknowledge that we too are responsible for civilians who lost their lives, and all that implies, because of our wars. They too will have to live with their own “shadows of battle.” And we should keep in mind the human cost in the aftermath of our wars: land mines and other unexploded ordinances that continue to kill and maim to this day.
We allow our government, and those who make their living from war, to trade lives for power and profit. We allow our tax dollars to go for research, development, maintenance of our military, and their deployment overseas, at the expense of advancing science, education, medicine, healthcare, and so many other needs right here at home.
As a result, we have failed at making the United States and our world a better place to live if only we had chosen a different way other than war.
© Copyright 2015 Horatio Green