“War is a poor chisel to carve out tomorrow” – Martin Luther King Jr.
Memorial Day is a time to remember those who are no longer with us especially those lost in combat fighting for our country. While I respect the troops completely and appreciate we have day focused on remembering them, I sometimes feel as though many of us have a skewed perspective on war as mechanism. So much of popular culture romanticizes the act of fighting far off conflicts in order to preserve the values and beliefs we hold so dear. Soldiers are memorialized for their acts of valor while the true realities and motivations of the battles that require these heroic acts are boiled down to simple concepts like “freedom” and the battle against “evil.” However, not only is this an overly simplistic assessment of the reasons for war, it ignores the many gray areas that characterize armed conflict on the world stage.
For starters, painting an entire group of people as evil, is not only untrue, but extremely dangerous. Dehumanizing an entire group of people in the name of war is simply wrong. Sure, it probably makes it easier for our troops to carry out the task before them, but in the larger scheme of things, it is detrimental to humanities place in the world. We should be finding ways to work through our differences with those we come into conflict with by focusing on what we can do to remedy any trouble that arises from these distinctions. While some of the darker elements of human nature make this difficult, perpetuating violence through further war and “othering” of those we disagree with will only lead to further loss of life.
Which brings us to the next point, justified killing does not hold to the ideals many wars are fought over. The laws and moral codes many of us hold most sacred emphasize the sacredness of human life and our right to it. However, when we engage in armed conflicts, we are fighting against the very same values we are fighting for. Furthermore, we lose sight of what bonds us together as a species: the love and compassion we show one another in the face of life’s daily struggles. Putting our soldiers in situations where they must violate such an integral part of their beliefs does them a disservice they do not deserve.
Finally, putting those honorable souls willing to sacrifice everything for our safety in harm’s way disgraces their service. Those who volunteer to defend this country should not be made to suffer either at the hands of an enemy or the psychological trauma that come from taking another human being’s life. Many of us would find it unbearable if we were told we must kill another person in the name of freedom, justice, and the “American Dream.” Yet, this is the burden we place on our troops when we send them to war in some distant corner of the world. We owe it to these individuals to avoid the conflicts that cost so many troop and civilian lives.
While it is unlikely war will ever completely cease to exist, it is important as a nation and as a world as whole, we carefully consider why it is we engage in the battles we do. We must not allow ourselves to portray those we disagree with as merely evil or out to destroy us. We must hold true to our ideals and values in all we do. Looking beyond ourselves to the troops who give their lives in defense of these very concepts. Only then, will we be able to move beyond the senseless violence our differences create and start seeing the similarities inherent in all of us.