Memorial Day serves as a reminder that “beneath the beauty of the lilies lies the ugliness of war.” The James Carroll metaphor perfectly captures the deepest 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” lined streets and adorned buildings. Men, women, children, members of the U.S. Armed Forces, 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 because of wounds suffered while serving in Iraq. On May 19, 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. However, pretty ribbons and glistening medals are not satisfactory compensation 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 seemed to be, that’s what Memorial Day seems to be, that’s what the medals are for, imbuing Americans with “pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war and promoting its continuance."
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 and nobility of purpose as they understood it to be, sacrificing their lives for it.
It’s appropriate that a day be set aside to honor Mathew and those who gave their lives in service to their country. And, if families and friends take advantage of Memorial Day to get together with barbecues or other events, enjoy a parade, that’s appropriate too, as long as we remember why there is a Memorial Day and acknowledge the real loss that lies under all those graves decorated with pretty flowers and flags. The reality is that collectively we are responsible for the sacrifice Mathew and many others made, and 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.”
We need to remember that we are responsible for civilians who lost their lives—euphemistically, “collateral damage”—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.
I wonder how many of those waiting for that hearse that Friday opposed the Iraq War. Or, how many supported the Iraq war, because like Mathew of its “nobility of purpose as they understood it to be.”
But, understood it to be, 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 © Horatio Green 2016