Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day: a somber reflection

In the United States we have three days during which we focus on our military: Memorial Day, the day we remember those who died fighting on behalf and at the behest of the United States; Armed Forces Day, the day we thank those who are currently serving; and Veteran's Day, the day we thank those who have served. It seems that we often garble the meaning of these days, that is, we mix them up and they congeal into a big celebration sponsored by potato chip and beer companies.

For Christians in the West, "memorial day," if you will, the day we remember all of our beloved dead, falls on 2 November- the Feast of All Souls, which comes at the tail end of the three day festival that begins on All Hallows Eve, and also includes All Hallows (i.e., All Saints).

It seems to me that Memorial Day should be a very sober and solemn observance. It ought to cause us to reflect deeply on the terrible cost of war in human terms, not only on our nation, but other nations as well. Yes, I just used both "should" and "ought," which many stylists hold should practically never be used. Without in any way exaggerating my exploits, I am a veteran and a combat veteran.

Today, as we contemplate the terrible wreckage that extends from the Maghreb, across the Levant, to Mesopotamia, let's not wax rhapsodic about combat. It is horrible. As Pope St John Paul II, speaking specifically to the drum beat leading up to the 2003 Iraqi War, said, "War is not always inevitable. It is always a defeat for humanity." Indeed, the first precept of Just War theory holds that going to war is only justified after all peaceful options are considered and exhausted. In other words, war is to be a last resort and not just over any old squabble between parties.

Do not misunderstand me. I am not a pacifist. I believe there are just for which it is morally acceptable to fight (i.e., kill and die for). However, I have a deep respect for others who do not share my view on principle. Just war criteria not only helps us to determine when war-making is justified, but gives us moral guidance on how military force is to be used. Here is an overview, a primer, of Just-War Theory.

Today, I pray that the souls of all those who died in combat fighting on behalf the United States rest in peace.

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