by Richard A. Cheatham, Press Media Group, LLC
Once again I spent Memorial Day contemplating lives lost by those fighting for their country. No doubt, I was joined by many others, some who’ve lost family members and friends, some of those with recent losses painfully fresh.
Many people enjoyed the long weekend; eating, vacationing, shopping, traveling and enjoying friends and family, without much thought for lost soldiers. These people knew the name of the holiday and the rationale for it, yet found it difficult to sympathize too closely with those who’d lost loved ones, not having experienced a similar loss.
I attended with friends the annual Fredericksburg Luminaria, a stunning evening commemoration of Memorial Day with candles lit for each soldier in the area’s Civil War Cemeteries. There were over twenty thousand candles burning that evening...twenty thousand!
We walked and talked, reflecting upon lives “spent” there in a most awful way during that bloody war. We discussed a new name I’ve begun to use, “The War to Prevent Southern Independence.” For me that name seems to accurately reflect the understanding most people, north and south, had about the conflict at the time. Though perhaps provocative sounding to some, it’s more accurate and/or less offensive than most others I’ve heard.
Perhaps because the dead from both sides were Americans, I couldn’t help reflecting upon questions of “why” and “for what.” Why this tremendous price in human lives? What was it all for? Since they were killing each other, who were the evil ones and who were the virtuous ones? They couldn’t both have been “right.” Who should be honored and why? Should some of those currently being honored be dishonored instead? Did all deserve our “honor” and respect equally?
What do we commemorate and honor on Memorial Day? Is it bravery? That could certainly be credited to most on both sides in any conflict. Is it loyalty? Same there too. Is it sacrifice? They all would have preferred to live, but many were supporting their highest values through their gamble of military service. What was worth all these human lives?
Aren’t these questions just as valid in every military cemetery around the world? Young people, the bulk of all armies, are asked to kill people they don’t know and who’ve done them no harm personally. These new deadly enemies are more alike than unlike, despite what eager propagandists on both sides say. Those cheerleaders for war do their best to convince their own countrymen that God is with them and that their opponents are agents of the devil. Anyone who doubts this must read Mark Twain’s “The War Prayer,” so provocative it wasn’t published until after the death of the author.
Perhaps these questions are better considered before conflicts begin than after they’ve begun. Or perhaps war’s an inevitable curse for most humans, so rarely skeptical and so willing to blindly follow.
©2005 by Richard A. Cheatham. All rights reserved. Mr.Cheatham is a professional speaker/writer whose weekly column, “Drawing Back The Veil” appears weekly in The Lynchburg Ledger. Mr. Cheatham is syndicated through Press Media Group, LLC, 434-332-2845. Contact him through, Living History Assoc., Ltd., at www.LHALtd.com or DrawBackVeil@aol.com.