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Memorial Day at Alexandria National CemeteryCivil War headstones on Memorial Day
Alexandria National Cemetery – United States
Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA)

 

Monday, 26 May 2014, is Memorial Day here in the United States. Every year on the final Monday in May, Americans remember and pay their respects to all those who have died while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. For those families who have recently lost a loved one during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the pain is still a raw, open wound. Lots of these families will be visiting national cemeteries and memorials across our nation. To mark our most solemn federal holiday, others will take part in thousands of parades.

As a nation honoring our fallen warriors, remembrance is not enough. We should also reflect on the scourge of war: on our families, our communities, our nation, our world. When it’s not our loved one out on the battle front, do we really care? When the war zones are far away in distant foreign lands, do we feel the pain, the fear, and the loss?

We are a self-destructive species. We kill our women and our young. We kill to stop killing. We offer awards and honor to those who give their lives in our killing fields. Can any award or honor substitute for the life of a loved one? If they’re able to share the truth about war, our warriors who survive the killing fields tell a different tale.

In The Yellow Birds, a novel about the Iraq war, Kevin Powers shows us the killing fields through the eyes of twenty-one-year-old Private Bartle and eighteen-year-old Private Murphy. Kevin Powers, a poet and writer, served in the U.S. Army in 2004 and 2005 in Iraq, where he was deployed as a machine gunner.

When Private Bartle returns home after his deployment, he struggles with the gratitude for his service he receives from the people in his community as well as his mother’s pride. How should he respond when former friends ask, “Hey, how are you?” How can he tell them the truth?

[S]hould I have said that I wanted to die…because there isn’t any making up for killing women or even watching women get killed, or for that matter killing men and shooting them in the back and shooting them more times than necessary to actually kill them and it was like just trying to kill everything you saw sometimes because it felt like there was acid seeping down into your soul and then your soul is gone and knowing from being taught your whole life that there is no making up for what you are doing, you’re taught that your whole life… (p.144)

This Memorial Day, I mourn for our species.

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