Monday, May 26, 2008

Happy Memorial Day!

I didn't have time to write a blog post earlier today--out celebrating Memorial Day with family and friends. But I did want to take a minute to thank those who have served or are serving in the Armed Forces for what they have done or are doing, and also to pray for all those who have given their lives in defense of our country.

It has become popular to identify politics with one's nation, to decide that being patriotic is the prerogative of only one political party, and moreover that to be a patriot one must show unquestioning support for all the decisions made by one's leaders involving war and rumors of war. Neither of these ideas are true. One may be a patriot while honestly and fervently disagreeing with the country's policies dealing with foreign wars; one may be a patriot even if one is not a Republican (and being a Republican, in and of itself, isn't necessarily a guarantee of patriotism).

The men and women who lay in their graves beneath a military marker, whenever they served, wherever they are buried, did not all march in lockstep with the political leaders of their generations. They didn't necessarily agree with the decisions that led to their deployment, or to their deaths. Only a chickenhawk sees it as necessary for the individual men or women serving in the military to be enthusiastic supporters of war, all war, any war; those who serve know better. If they've been in combat they know as we civilians never can the dreadful cost of each decision to send American troops into a country or region in an effort to employ a military solution to any specific problem--and they have nothing but contempt for those who wish to use a military solution to problems that could or should be solved another way.

But they served, anyway. They deployed, anyway. They marched or dug or swept or fired or engaged, anyway. And we prayed for them--and some of them died, anyway.

To love one's country is a profound thing, but it is the emptiest sort of sham patriotism to believe that one's country is best loved when one's country is engaged in battle, somewhere. The men and women we honor today, and every Memorial Day, knew better than that. They knew that the real patriotism is the sort that serves, but also questions; that goes willingly into the hellish battle, but strives for heavenly peace.

As we honor the hearts long-stilled that once swelled with pride at the sound of the National Anthem or the sight of Old Glory, it is not those patriotic feelings we salute: it is the courage that kept going when neither anthem or flag seemed worth the sacrifice of their lives--in the darkest hours of fear or pain, in the moment when death was certain, when they did indeed lay down their lives not for some abstract political principle, but for their fellow soldiers, who not only represented but became the America worth dying for. And what they did for them, they did for us all.

May their souls and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

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