Today we remember those who died in the service of ideals we cherish. We remember the fallen. We mourn what is lost. And on this day I wonder what lessons we might draw from our new understanding of the Lucifer Effect.
I will never forget my first walk through the Vietnam war memorial. The walkway slanted gently downward, inviting entry. As I descended, the wall rose around me, each step taking me deeper and deeper into the hall of the dead.
Here and there people had placed flowers or ribbons at the base of the wall. But the names?he names? The names did not speak. But they had a silence that spoke for them in the stillness.
It was still. The noises that filled the air at ground-level: the rush of traffic, the blare of automobile horns, the uplifted pedantic voices of tour-guides, the gleeful cries of children playing at the edge of the reflecting pool and the occasional bark of dogs and parents?hese sounds were no more.
There was only the silence of the names, one after another lined in precise rows along the wall.
We were young. We have died. Remember us.
Near the midpoint of the walkway, in the deepest part of the memorial, I saw a man huddled at the base of the wall.
He held a medal in his hand; it dangled from its brightly-colored ribbon. The man knelt, his head pressed against the wall, the hand with the medal lifted to touch a single name. Tears streamed down his face.
He was too young to be a father. I could not know if he was son or brother or comrade. But he had loved; his heart ached with loss and regret and the echoing silence of the names of the dead.
We leave you our deaths. Give them their meaning.
If we understand the Lucifer Effect, we understand the need for individuals to resist the impetus to war and the mind-set that leads to war. The prevailing attitudes, the mindsets of our culture, are contagions that spread rapidly from one person to another; contagions that can be resisted only by heroes who resolve to seek alternative paths.
The man wept at the base of the wall. I passed gently by, witnessing his loss and knowing it was also my own. As I continued on, I saw other walkers pause to read, to touch a name, to listen to the silence of what was lost.
Any loss, no matter how significant, does not come with its meaning inscribed. It is like a name on a wall, etched in our consciousness, palpable, unforgettable. But the meaning comes from what we do after we move out of the depths and into the sunlight.
I walked through the Vietnam memorial one spring day, and when I emerged into the sunshine a resolve had sprouted from my soul? broken earth. I watered it with my tears.
No single individual can prevent war. Despite my resolve, war has come again. But as more and more individuals resolve "Never again," together we resist the Lucifer Effect that endorses and encourages war. As individuals with resolve, with courage, we contribute to a future where the world finds other ways to settle disputes.
Today we honor those who died for ideals we cherish. We remember what has been lost. By their courage then, and ours today; by their resolve, and ours, we honor the longing within every human heart for peace and a new hope.
They left us their deaths. We must give them meaning.
Note: The voices of the dead are quoted from the poem by Archibald MacLeish, "The Young, Dead Soldiers."
This is a very moving entry.
One of the grave mistakes that the peace movement made during the Southeast Asia War of the late sixties and early seventies was to blame the men and women of the military who were serving in that theater for the questionable policy decisions of three American Presidential administrations (four, depending upon which historian you read). The people who were putting their lives on the line were not responsible for the political decisions that led to our involvement.
I have visited military museums in both Saigon and Hanoi, and am very much struck by the respect which the Vietnamese government now accords to the American military personnel against whom they fought. They refer to "58,000 American martyrs" who were sacrificed by civilian politicians. In some ways, the Vietnamese show more respect for veterans of that war than we do in America.
We can discuss all day long whether the decision to go into a particular war was right, wrong, or indifferent, but may we never ever again take out our frustrations on those who are sent to fight.
By Curtis Webster | Posted on June 4, 2009, 7:06 pm
It is indeed a moving entry. But I find I must take mild exception to Reverend Curtis'characterisation of the peace movement as reviling the soldiers instead of the war. In some ways it enshrines what I am certain he knows is the same false choice we were all given in the face of our current war - you either support the war or you hate the troops. Certainly there were thousands who did. And absolutely those thousands were deemed more newsworthy than the thousands more of us who did not. The stories of returning soldiers being spat upon are many. The coverage of those of us who were spat upon for reaching out to them are not. There was minimal, if any, attention paid to the peace activists who took in the families of the war dead who were turfed by the government with little more than a flag as thanks for their sacrifice. At the time, even local news outlets felt that the compassion of "peaceniks" would dilute the message. And then immediacy of the nightly news coverage as atrocities were brought to light - and what war does not have atrocities? - made it more problematic. Demanding that our government acknowledge what they had done to our soldiers was branded as unpatriotic, just as now atrocities in Iraq are said to be the result of Bad Acters rather than systemic. Sometimes I am discouraged by the drive to define and stay on message, to keep it so simple that humanity becomes irrelevant to the narrative. But it doesn't do to succumbe. To quote Cervantes [sort of], "The Enchanter may confuse the outcome, but the effort remains sublime."
By Annie Johnston | Posted on July 21, 2009, 3:16 pm
Point taken. I see now that I was guilty of making one of those gross over-generalizations we all tend to make when trying to be brief. Because SOME in the peace movement took the moral low road and blamed the soldiers (including draftees and others who probably didn't want to be in the war anyway), the whole notion of opposing a war-in-progress became tainted by the perception that peace advocates were anti-American low-lifes out to undermine their own country. Listen to the rhetoric of Anne Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, and others and you will hear that perception continuing to be invoked some four decades later. To fight for peace is to be a flag-burning America-hating pot-smoking heathen hippie. I apologize to you, Annie, and to all Americans who exercised then, and exercise now, their right to protest in mature, responsible and dare-I-say patriotic ways.
By Rev. Curtis Webster | Posted on July 22, 2009, 11:49 am
Reverends, My first visit to the VietNam Veterans Memorial was on Father's Day (1994?), and I wept with those weeping that day. I recently lost a friend who served honorably in the Marines, Navy, and Army over a 20+ year period which included five tours in VietNam. Some of his "heroic acts" included assisting CID in catching a General who's warehouse had an "unsecured back door", and calling Washington to insist a soldier's reported suicide in VietNam was in fact a homicide. I miss you John. Thank you for this forum where an old "draft counselor" could pay tribute to an honorable hero.
By Robert Olcott | Posted on August 18, 2009, 5:15 am