We’re out of state on Memorial Day so this year, for the first time in many years, I won’t be at the annual Vets for Peace gathering on the Minnesota State Capitol Grounds. Of course, the event doesn’t need me to go on. Here’s the info about Monday in St. Paul. This is always a meaningful event, of, by and for veterans.
Memorial Day with the Veterans for Peace
Vietnam Veterans Memorial (Minnesota State Capitol grounds)
Monday, 9:30 AM
Music, poetry, speeches,
solemn ringing of bells,
and the reading of the names
of the Minnesota casualties
of Iraq and Afghanistan Wars
(click to enlarge photo)
There are many thoughts this Memorial Day, particularly when politicians are attempting to justify war and blame someone else for it.
I’m going to propose taking some time to watch and read the items which follow. They will take some of your time, but you might find them both interesting and instructive.
Personally, I am a military veteran, from a family of veterans. I’m a long time member of the American Legion and Veterans for Peace. I have a grandson who’s in Air Force ROTC in high school, and I consider it a positive experience for him in many ways. This does not make me, or him, pro-war. It is helping him grow up. And he, too, is proud of his service.
My focus this weekend will be on a person I never met, the brother of my good friend, Jim, who died this year from the lingering and severe effects of exposure to Agent Orange during Vietnam. His suffering is over. Our national confusion continues.
All this makes me a complicated individual when it comes to a conversation about this annual Memorial Day which is interpreted in so many ways (the Legion post in the town we’re visiting this weekend will be having a fish fry on Saturday night). Not all is somber on this day remembering death (though many victims of war are very much alive, though suffering PTSD or other long-term effects of war).
Here’s my recommendations:
1. March 20 I and many others listened to seven persons tell seven stories of the Vietnam War from their perspective. The film is excellent and runs for about 90 minutes. You can watch it here. I was there. It is a somber and thought-provoking presentation.
2. In recent months, out at the family farm in North Dakota, I have come across some very interesting and historical documents about World War II BEFORE Pearl Harbor. The American Legion has helpfully provided its summary history of American Wars. You can read these in the first section “POSTNOTE” here.
3. This year is the 70th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations. On June 1 will be what appears to be a very interesting webcast of talks by many experts which at minimum I’d like you to be aware of. You can access the information here. Another perspective, by my friend and UN expert Dr. Joe Schwartzberg can be read at the end of this post from Jan. 1, 2015.
My friend, Lynn Elling, is fond of the mantra that we are in “an open moment in history” to change course.
I agree with his assessment, but even more so.
We will, collectively, decide on global progress towards peace; or continuing on a death-spiral for our entire planet through war, lack of attention to crises like man-induced climate change, etc.
We cannot pretend that the past is present; that simple belief about this or that suffices; or that there is a rosy future without deep and painful changes in our behaviors.
The mantra of the energy industry, for instance, pronounced over and over on TV ads, that we are energy independent and will be (it is suggested) okay for the next 100 years is very dangerous.
My grandparents were married 110 years ago, long ago, but a blip in human history. Who will be around 110 years from today who will remember us fondly?
It is long past time to wake up.
POSTNOTE: A year ago, this time of year, it was my privilege to meet Ehtasham Anwar, a Pakistani civil official in one of Pakistan’s largest city – as big as the Twin Cities. Ehtasham was completing a year as a Humphrey/Fulbright Fellow at the Human Rights Center of the University of Minnesota Law School.
We talked about many things in the month we worked together on his year-end project, on the issue of peace. And one memory is vivid in my mind, since he mentioned it to me more than once.
Paraphrasing what I remember, he said this: “Throughout this year in Minnesota I have been so impressed with how friendly and peace-loving American people are. Why is it that American foreign policy towards others in other parts of the world is so negative and dominating?”
I gave him my answer, what I thought was our national problem. Hint: it is every one of us, our disinterest and lack of engagement in the greater questions of who we are with the rest of the world, even with our fellow Americans. We are individualists. Too many of us have had it far too well, for far too long. We feel we are entitled to what some call our “exceptionalism”.
What is yours?, I ask you.
Ironically, overnight came a personal commentary remembered from a fifteen years ago conversation in Paris by my favorite blogger, Just Above Sunset. You can read it here. Remember, this is from near 15 YEARS ago. While at this blog space, the previous several posts have summarized the last couple of weeks of posturing by presumptive U.S. presidential candidates for 2016 on the issue of war. The other columns are very well worth your time.