Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Memorial Day

On Memorial Day, we went up to the Saint Mary's University campus and did a May Day "crowning" (in quotes because obviously we couldn't get to the statue to crown her). We prayed the Angelus with the kids: ". . . And the Word was made Flesh: And dwelt among us...." And we prayed for peace.

As anyone who has read this blog for a while knows, we have a very ambivalent attitude toward these "military" holidays. On the one hand, we have family and close friends who have volunteered with the military, and we know many good people in the military. It does seem appropriate to honor the sacrifices they make for the sake of the good.

On the other hand, we are mindful that the Church has always taught that war has no place in the kingdom of heaven, that it is always a failure of humanity. And we are aware that, too often, our military has been involved in actions that can only be described as horrific; the indiscriminate firebombing of whole cities comes to mind as deserving condemnation. More recently, we read this L.A. Times minute-by-minute analysis of how a U.S. Predator drone killed 23 civilians, including two small children, in Afghanistan. More disturbing than the civilian deaths (thousands have been "collateral damage" in the past ten years) is the attitude of the drone team as revealed by transcripts of their chatter, which can only be described as sickening: their enthusiasm for killing their "targets," their mockery of the civilians' prayers by the side of the road, their resentment at cautionary suggestions that some of the targets may have been kids. Their cavalier attitude upon learning that their targets were civilians, including women and children, reminds me of the kind of black humor and self-excusing talk that we're told is common in abortion clinics. It's another example of why resorting to violence as a solution to social problems ultimately hurts us more than it hurts our victims.

Later that evening, we went to the Winona Catholic Worker, which is usually host to a handful of veterans --  some of them homeless, others hungry for food or conversation. We heard that earlier that day -- at about the same time that we were doing our May crowning -- the workers were getting cursed out by an angry veteran dressed in his uniform, complete with various medals; he had apparently come straight from one of the many Memorial Day ceremonies around town. He was angry with the Catholic Worker volunteers because they'd just told him they didn't have a bed for him that night.

Perhaps I would feel less ambivalent about these military holidays if we said fewer words around stone memorials during services that conflate respect for our veterans with a subtle endorsement of the wars we send them to fight. Perhaps I would feel more warmly toward Memorial Day if we truly remembered our veterans -- beginning with the ones who need food, shelter, and someone to listen to their stories.