Memorial Day, 2009
"On, sons of Greece! Set free / Your fatherland, your children, wives, / Homes of your ancestors and temples of your gods! / Save all, or all is lost!" Aeschylus, The Persians
Those lines were written by the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus. For his part in creating the art of tragic drama, he won immortal glory. Winner of the highest honors his own and other Greek cities had to offer, he wrote this epitaph inscribed on his tomb.
“Under this monument lies Aeschylus the Athenian, Euphorion's son, who died in the wheatlands of Gela. The grove of Marathon, with it's glories, can speak of his valor in battle. The long-haired Persian remembers and can speak of it too.”
There is not a word about his fame as an artist, only about his service as a common foot soldier in the battle that saved his city and his civilization.
This Monday we celebrate Memorial Day, a day set aside to remember our countrymen and women killed in our country's wars.
Memorial Day is not a day for the glorification of war, celebration of past victories, or lamentation for heroic defeat. It is a day to remember that for each and every American who died in a war, whether that war was inevitable or avoidable, the world ended for someone and was forever damaged for others.
It is fashionable in some circles these days to be “against war,” and to decry the horrors of war.
Congratulations. Only a lunatic is “for” war.
"I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity," said Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander in Europe World War II.
The sixth century Byzantine general Flavius Belisarius, considered by some military historians to be the greatest field commander in history, said, "All men with even a small store of reason know that peace is chiefest of blessings."
Gen. Robert E. Lee, who Winston Churchill called, “one of the noblest Americans who ever lived,” said, “It is good that war is so terrible, lest we should learn to love it.”
Does anyone think their moral authority to condemn war is greater than these men's?
Our oldest living veterans went to war in a time when men like Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Hideki Tojo commanded armies and fleets that laid waste to nations.
Our fellow-citizens in today's military serve at a time when weapons of terrifying power are in danger of falling into the hands of rogue nations, failed states and international terrorists.
Some day there may come a time when men “shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they study war any more.”*
Some day perhaps, Memorial Day will be “a dim remembering of a cursed time, when man was a wolf to man.”**
But that day is not yet.
And until that day comes, men and women in uniform, our countrymen, must continue to put themselves between their homes and those who would destroy them. And we must continue to honor those who did not fail in their duty, lest the day come when there is no one left willing to stand between our homes and war's desolation.***
* Isaiah II
** Bartolomeo Vanzetti to the judge who condemned him to death, "Your laws, your courts, your false god, will be a dim remembering of a cursed time when man was a wolf to man." Very eloquent, especially for a man for whom English was a second language. Too bad the sumbitch was guilty. Unfair trials sometimes convict guilty people too.
***O, thus be it ever when freemen shall stand,
Between their loved homes and the war's desolation;
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the heav'n-rescued land
Praise the Pow'r that hath made and preserv'd us as a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause, it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust"
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
Fourth verse, it's really a better poem than it is a song IMHO.