by GENE HOWINGTON
Today is Memorial Day. Some, especially those who have served or have had loved ones in the service, treat it as one of the biggest holidays of the year. To many, it is simply a three day weekend and an excuse to go get drunk at the lake. Some may find the holiday jingoistic, militaristic and hollow. I tend to look at it as a way to promote pacifism. This may seem counter-intuitive, so let me explain. I’ll be quoting quite of bit from one of our greatest generals and a far better than average President, Dwight D. Eisnehower, and I’ll start with this:
“I feel impelled to speak today in a language that in a sense is new-one which I, who have spent so much of my life in the military profession, would have preferred never to use. That new language is the language of atomic warfare.”
Eisenhower lived in a time where we were on the cusp of technology marking the transition from cavalry to tanks and air superiority, from the horrible but limited capacities of chemical weapons to the potential global killing capacities of nuclear weapons. He was one of the first of what we would now consider modern soldiers. He was also one of the wisest.
“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”
To me, this is the true essence of pacifism. It is a common misconception that being a pacifist means you are totally non-violent and for some practitioners that is their chosen path. That is I think an unrealistic proposition. Sometimes violence is necessary such as it can be in self-defense and the defense of others. It is serious business. As a person and as a nation, we should be ready for it and willing to commit violence when necessary. One can be a pacifist without being a doormat to the aggression of others. To me, being a pacifist means being committed to trying every possible peaceful solution before resorting to violence. In this regard, Eisenhower – one of the truly great strategists and tacticians of World War II – was both a pacifist and a soldier. The two seemingly disparate states of being are not mutually exclusive. It is an integrated understanding of the maxim of Sun Tzu when he said, “For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”
You can celebrate Memorial Day and condemn the violence that makes the holiday necessary in the first place. This is not a dishonor to those who have served but rather the highest form of recognition of their sacrifices possible. My grandfather was a veteran of the Pacific theater in World War II. Contrast this with the service of my uncle who died in the Vietnam War. This war is widely considered an unjust war for a variety of reasons not the least of which was the heavy influence of industry and big business in entering the conflict. It was a war of choice, not a war of necessity. Vietnam was in many ways the kind of war Eisenhower warned against in his now famous speech before leaving office.
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
Just so, the Iraq War was and is an unjust war of choice and a war with an opponent who did not attack us on 9/11. It is, I think, not only fine to condemn unnecessary wars while recognizing the role our warriors play as honorable in itself regardless of the base and increasingly venal motivations of the politicians who issue their orders, but a requisite of being a good citizen and in defending those soldiers who we depend upon in times of necessity from abuses by the unscrupulous in positions of power. The honor and duty shown by my grandfather and my uncle are equal regardless of the nature of the conflict in which they served. I thank them both as I do all the other members of the armed services.
But what I can do to best serve their memory on this day is to work to remove from power those who would start wars of choice for profit or political gain with mindless disregard for the lives they put in harms way. The most peaceful solution is to make sure that our soldiers are not harmed for the balance sheets of Exxon and Halliburton via political process. It is a war by peaceful means, but it is a war and a necessary one. If you want to honor our military? Make sure their jobs are not needed. This Memorial Day, like the ones before and after, I’m going to think about ways in the coming year I can do something for the troops that will benefit them directly.
I’m going to wage peace.
“If men can develop weapons that are so terrifying as to make the thought of global war include almost a sentence for suicide, you would think that man’s intelligence and his comprehension… would include also his ability to find a peaceful solution.”
What do you think?