“Hushed be the camps to-day. No more for him life’s stormy conflicts, nor victory, nor defeat? No more time’s dark events.” – Walt Whitman
A nation long at war must ultimately succumb to the numbing of the heart; moment by moment the pallor of war conquers inch-by-inch the woven thread binding one’s spirit to its vessel, the dread is broad and near, the memorial becomes no less or more its own salve; soothing the dissonance you surely know; easing the breach between wound and peace; penance for the expendable. There is no valor in death; valiant is to the living.
It appears war is only viewed in arrears, tragic and wasteful, only once the guns are silent, the fallen are interred and history records its lingering questions in want of a faithful response: Is this the only common attribute of mankind; our ability to universally cause war? Certain that I’m not alone as many Americans view strategic on-occasion speech by a president or commander a burden; nothing more than a feckless attempt at reconciliation, a reminder that but for the grace of God go I. Walt Whitman observed the carnage of war and for this reason I find his observations particularly worthy and relevant;
“The real war will never get in the books.”
There is an implicit truth in Whitman’s words, an unseemly variant which speaks to an attribution of War perhaps as nothing more than a visceral expression of one influence choosing to impose itself upon another. For this reason I have long found Memorial Day both a reminder of recklessness and oddly enough, a cause for great reverence.Reckless as it relates to our tethering an incomprehensible privilege to one single chief executive; the extreme where expending a life appears the only choice available. Reverence for the value of a life, so fragile and precious embodied by Men and Women who with full knowledge answer a command the fulfillment of which offers their life as a form of consideration or payment. I confess that I do not know how to orientate or reconcile myself to a construct of human interaction where an inanimate projectile, a bomb, a bullet or missile, is used to cancel a life. We all should find this increasingly intolerable particularly when the alternative would be to project ones infinite potential toward raising the standard of what was once thought of as mans peak-performance; a far more purposeful expression which I trust we can agree remains in short supply.
I am overwhelmed by these two seemingly incongruent perspectives; reckless and reverent and yet there is one instance where war, though still a choice and no less barbaric, stirs as inevitable. The only occasion where a noble and just cause could merit a writ of action, the only occasion where combat is the purest form and expression of valor. The occasion where tyranny in opposition to the expression of one’s unalienable right to life and liberty becomes the subject of conquest and then, as Thomas Jefferson expressed, “The only risk between divided friends should be who will dare furthest into the ranks of the common enemy.” Without question,
“Man must be free for independence to be at liberty to be expressed.”
Over the years I’ve visited a great many battlefield and the cemeteries their casualties fill; walking the rows and rows of headstones that monument the story of America’s sense of itself. Yes, I do think of the lives lost and yet I wonder beyond that and into the ethereal domain: I wonder what might be the context of a question asked by a Revolutionary War Soldier of a War of 1812 Veteran, a Cheyenne Warrior of a Confederate Soldier, a World War I Infantrymen of a World War II General, a Korean War G.I. of a Vietnam War Green Beret or a Gulf War I Grunt of a posthumously decorated Special-Ops Commander who recorded multiple tours as part of the seemingly endless Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan)? Set aside the special bond, the esprit de corps that exists soldier-to-soldier and consider what might actually be going on in the pure mind of a Soul no longer bound to a corporal form, a soldier’s code, a national flag or chain of command.
I’ve thought about this question and what form it might take and what follows is the result of my best effort:
“Soon my friend the cloud of war will part and with it your pain. Soon your lungs will have no need of breath and your heart at last will rest. I too was once a soldier and I asked that I might come and ease your troubled mind. I know of your sadness, the intemperate longing for those who remain and yes, like you they too will forgo the bounty that was to have been the measure of your life. Yes, they will lay in wait with hope that one day another will reclaim your fallen and unfinished script. They will wait. Yes, I will stay with you until your journey is complete but in return I must ask of you to ease the tremors of my own and still lingering torment. I ask you this: What became of the battle, the field, the smell and sounds of war? What became of my children, my wife and my home; do they endure? I left for war, behind me cross-words and silent thought I’d hoped one day to heal; letters, one to my Brother the other to my Wife wrapped within my field-satchel; were they sent? Answer me, I must know! What became of the unfinished, the unfulfilled, the known but not yet spoken, the imagined once thought unimaginable? My own hope it seems must fade; the answers I see there in your wounds! Alas my questions remain all for not and of no matter for it appears that Man continues defining success thru making war more efficient and familiar. A sparrow confined to a simple glass cylinder; he sees only to the forest which surrounds him, his prospects tied to the limits of what he sees as his to control within the confines of what he’s too long believed to be his cage. How long will he ignore the opening above? The passage will ever-remain and never beyond his reach.”
No, I will never accept that Soldiers willingly give up their lives for the valiant code of the Corps; it is more likely they revere the code as a way of anesthetizing themselves against the risk of regret; that only warriors know and understand the price, the brutality and the insanity of war and the Soldier must attempt to absorb and own this composition of thought as a way of appearing and expressing invincibility. They know, intuitively, that they are being asked to do the unthinkable, to perform a function which positions them adverse or in opposition to a higher purpose and higher cause. It is from this profound sense of discord that they become bound to the warrior code so as to counter the thought that War is no so much the ultimate sacrifice but more so that it is the ultimate waste; it is the Soldiers only survival mechanism. It may also be the reason for why most Soldiers return home and have difficulty reacquiring a non-combat state of mind and it makes perfect sense; their subconscious will not allow the brutality of war to be reconciled.
There is a need for Memorial Day if for no other reason than as an in memoriam of selfless acts of valor but far more necessary that it be thought of as a stern admonition to the living; a reminder of the lives surrendered, of grace and potential suspended, of love whose touch will never be replaced and of a journey whose path will continuously extend so long as we take the road too easily traveled.
For the families of Soldiers lost and for those Soldiers standing guard at hundreds of posts around the globe I offer a simple hope and a simple prayer: My prayer is a call to the Great and Omniscient Creator whose profound and infinite grace binds one and all to the other. That you be consume and surrounded by a profound sense of peace, of wisdom and of a confidence that soon man will move above and beyond his tolerance and appetite for the brutality of war. That one day soon we will know for all time that there is no weapon the mind of man might ever conceive that will secure a lasting peace. In the meantime; know that you are loved and that your people want you home where you belong expressing your gift as God intended, not at the point of a spear.
“There is no week nor day nor hour when tyranny may not enter upon this country, if the people lose their roughness and spirit of defiance.” – Walt Whitman
Curtis C. Greco, Founder