Honoring the Fallen

It is the sad state of the human condition that nations fight each other in the name of one cause or another, be it justified or not. Currently the United States is embroiled in a war that, like many wars before, seems to have no visible end in sight.

Like so many conflicts our country has seen, young men and women of this country give their lives in service in our armed forces.

Although I disagree with the causes and ultimate goal of our presence in Iraq, the one thing I think all my fellow countrymen can agree on is that the soldiers who have been slain should always be remembered for their sacrifice.

Veterans Day honors those who have been killed in this conflict and others and honors those who have fought and lived to tell their stories.

But should we just honor the soldiers who have fought for us? As François Fénelon said, “All wars are civil wars for all men are brothers.” Should we not honor the dead of our former and current enemies as well?

Think back, if you know your history, to World War I and the universal tragedy that was that war.

Yes, there were divisions between men of different nations. Yes, the men who fought in that war mowed each other down in droves in hopeless charges against one another for pointless battles over dirt and even more pointless treaties.

But yet in the midst of all the slaughter, in the trenches there was an unofficial Christmas peace, a time when men from all the different belligerent nations realized the absurdity of their circumstances and threw down their arms for a brief period of time and got together and celebrated Christmas.

It started sporadically, this unofficial peace that so offended the commanding officers. Legend has it that in some places it began with German troops singing Christmas carols over to their equally fatigued enemies, the French and the British.

And before you knew it, men from both sides of this conflict met in the no man’s land exchanging gifts and stories as if the war was a distant memory.

In some sections of this front it was recorded that French and British troops came together for a different type of competition against their enemies and played soccer in no man’s land.

This type of story gives me hope that maybe one day man will see past cultural differences and accept each other as human beings.

Alas, I hate to sound like a bleeding heart liberal, which, for the record, I am not. I agree that sometimes war is a necessity and cannot be avoided. My grandfather served in the Royal Navy in WWII against the Japanese so I understand the need for service.

But to quote Hemingway, an author who knew war so intimately, “Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime.” And for all intents and purposes, war is a crime.

It is a crime that young men should be robbed of their lives in pointless conflicts. It is a crime that civilians who have nothing to do with it get caught in the crossfire.

And above all it is a crime that the old lie spoken by the poet and soldier Wilfred Owen quoting the poet Horace, “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori,” translated from the Latin as “It is sweet and becoming to die for your country” keeps being repeated generation after generation.

It is a lie and a crime. But the common soldier does not commit any crime. They are but pawns in a game that goes way beyond them.

They are, in a sense, innocent. They are not to blame for the crime of war. They are the brave and tired few who have taken up arms in a world that would demand that of them.

So for those of you who are pacifists, honoring the soldier should not contradict your beliefs. And if it does, consider revising your beliefs to at least respect those who fight your battles for you.