Lest We Forget

Lest We Forget

Memorial Day Doesn’t Tell A War

As a kid, I always felt that Memorial Day was a little strange—parades and bands, ceremony and picnics. It always felt to me, as if we were holding up war and celebrating it. I never understood what there was to celebrate about war. I saw it more as a failure of the human race. Oh, I understand that it is a way to appreciate those in our armed services and honor the fallen. But it always seemed to glorify war somehow—the statues, memorials, pomp and circumstance. Seems to me we could honor the soldier more by making war obsolete and the dead more by keeping them alive and avoiding war altogether.

Humans are perpetually at war with somebody and governments know that the fastest and most effective way to unite a people or a country is to identify a common enemy. That serves leadership well whether it’s corrupt leadership or noble.

“They can send a man to the moon... but they can’t....” the cliché goes, and there’s some sense in that. Humans have amazing imaginations; just look at what has been accomplished since our cave man and hunter-gatherer days! We can make the darkness light; we can harness or drive non-mammal workhorses and machines; we can build buildings that reach into the sky; we can speak to someone across the globe in the blink of an eye; we can heal the sick and even raise the dead with a defibrillator device that shocks the heart back into operation.

The human brain is more complex and powerful than any computer on earth and in a short history humanity has colonized, industrialized and homogenized—all the while being harmonized in a million tiny chemical and electrical precision interactions that work perfectly in brilliant synchronicity. The human mind has no boundaries and has invented everything you look at, everything you use, everything you know, and everything that goes... The human imagination knows no limits. We are now a global village connected to every other human on the planet. “We can send a man to the moon...”

But we haven’t invented the antidote to war. That’s not a testament to inherent human aggression or intractable violence; that’s a lack of ingenuity and lazy imagination. We can do all those other things; but we can’t imaginatively find a more productive way to solve our differences?

It’s not that there aren’t those who dare to dream, but that there are those who don’t find the dream of peace sexy enough to gain and retain the planet’s best minds or god forbid—the outcome is not wildly profitable. Why is it that every solution, instead of human empathy or shared humanity, begins with testosterone? We’re hard wired for both! In fact, to become violent we must work against our inherent nature. (Goetz, Keltner, & Simon-Thomas, 2010)

We have to invent enemies to have them. We have to invent machines in order to kill with them. We have to invent a reason to commit mass killing in order to do the dirty business. We have to invent something to be ours—like land or resources, philosophies or arguments that truly belong either to the Earth or to God. If we can imagine a man the enemy, we can just as easily imagine him a friend. For he too loves, is industrious, has ancestors, relations and children. He too worries about his family, how his debts will get paid, how he can be safe and live without fear, how he can strengthen his faith in something greater and what kind of person his teenager will turn out to be. He too, wants to stay in his home or homeland and love it; he too has to fight when it doesn’t feel safe; he too will flee taking the path of hardship when it’s safer than from whence he came; he too will brave dangerous water when it’s safer than the land. He too gets weary; he too momentarily forgets why he fights; he too would feel relief if he could just... Put. his. weapon. down.

I’m weary of the cynicism, aren’t you? Don’t you want to stop looking over your shoulder, constantly protecting your place, your space? Don’t you want a neighbor, a boss, a friend, a home, a community, a leader, a president, a world—that is respectful? Wouldn’t you like to begin every transaction of your life with the premise that all who find themselves in whatever circumstance, are fellow human beings deserving of dignity and worth? Wouldn’t you like the world to employ kindness in default and invent and imagine compassion?

How would you like to, at least, try? Come along for the ride or just for the joy of it? Then we invite you to join us in the mission of the Charter for Compassion International—to invite everyone to begin with kindness and default to compassion. We have 350 cities who are coming along, 1500 organizations and partners who are coming along and 8 million who believe we can do it.

I want to put that childhood behind me and remember Memorial Day in a different way. Instead of honoring their service or their deaths as a consequence of conflict, I want to remember the soldiers as soldiers on the way to peace, as partners in history who came before to pave the way to a more compassionate world, compassionate future.

So will you, in honor of the Memorial Day of the future that will celebrate the path to peace through the spread of compassion that makes war finally obsolete—make a donation in tribute or memoriam for the work that will get us there? We’d humbly and in honor, accept your Memorial Day Remembrance.



-for somebody who once wore it

I cry today the Memorial.
An empty wind
stirs chimes and hills,
echoes the flood plain
to Southeast Asia.
I smell a country,
taste a soldier’s fear
feel burning straw,
hear a twig,
a mother’s heart,
and a story break
on the six o’clock news.
Sculptured bronze
metal bodies
freeze time
and history
for a nation too easily
forgot the words
“never again.”
A national flag
snaps to attention,
salutes a lonely wind,
and unforgotten war,
a hypnotized people,
an uneasy belief
that a Persian Gulf
and fresh new war
can heal another.
It stings like yesterday
twenty-five years later.
A generation of peace
still missing in action,
the human race
still prisoners of war.
Flowers die,
war memories fade
for those who don’t touch it
but the green patch of cloth
placed on the ground
in the center of a Memorial Day wreath
speaks an authentic story,
tells a war.
A somebody once wore it.

* “Highground is the name of a war memorial built on a hill outside Neillsville, Wisconsin. It is a typical bronze casting of soldiers in war but at the back of the monument is a rifle turned upside down (a symbol for peace and “war no more”) and a large set of chimes that ring through valley below when the wind blows. Highground is said to be a place of great healing for veterans and those who have been touched by war.

Contributed by: Barbara Kaufmann is a writer and volunteer with the Charter for Compassion International. Her work may be found at www.onewordsmith.com

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