by Joe Shea
American Reporter Editor-in-Chief
May 29, 2006
WHAT IS A FITTING MEMORIAL FOR THESE BRAVE DEAD?
War is a cruel and ugly thing, born as John Knowles said of "something ignorant in the human heart," and that is where, too, the hurt of every loss remains in each lifetime that a bullet, bomb, mine or mortar touches with the cold finger of death.
Paul Michael Roberts died in the 19th year of his life, and this light, quick boy with a golden heart was the most gentle of all of us Shea's, Dooley's and Roberts's, untouched by meanness, envy or revenge, the trio Liam Clancy named to Bob Dylan in a drunken stupor as the deepest evils of the world.
In "Legends of the Fall," the great movie with Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins and Aidan Quinn, we see a heart torn literally from one man by war when his gentle younger brother is lost, and the figurative heart torn from him, from his father, from his wife, from another brother, from his oldest friend.
How easy it is to forget, in all the brave rhetoric that is spoken on Memorial Day, that war is a selfless slave of death regardless of victory or defeat. As we loved Paul, so someone loved a suicide bomber that climbed on a bus in Tel Aviv. So someone loved the dead child and the grandfather and the young waiter and the teenage soldier whose lives she took - some are just girls, after all.
And in that rhetoric, too, because it is always necessary to praise the cause for which they fought, it is difficult to remember the lies that were them, and us, that took them off to war. Just as President George W. Bush, a Republican, took us to Iraq on the back of a hell-bent pack of scampering lies, so President Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat, sent Paul Michael Roberts to war on the strength of false reports about the Gulf of Tonkin incident, and sustained him and hundreds of thousands of other American young men there with lies told in the wake of the first.
My grandfather fought bravely beside future President Theodore Roosevelt in Cuba, on the strength of lies that publisher William Randolph Hearst told about the sinking of the Maine in the harbor of Havana, and my great-grandfather as a 15-year-old lay gravely wounded at Gettysburg in the service of rich men from Petersburg, Va., who loved the South and supported slavery but scorned the War Between the States as something beneath their stations in life. He lost his father, at Shiloh, I believe, in the first days of the war.
What is a fitting memorial for these brave dead, for these gravely wounded, for these torn and blasted hearts of good men and women humbled by war's swift sword?
Throw off the chains of ignorance. Unseat the evil perpetrators of deadly lies. Rise above false beliefs. Love one another. Respect the living as holy vessels of life. Foremost, seek clarity; first, search for the truth.
"Chains of ignorance," you say? "Evil perpetrators?" And "holy vessels?" The rhetoric of protest and political alienation is a poor refuge for truth. But in Iraq today, and in neighboring Iran, how else do we describe the insurgents who shot members of a tennis team to death for wearing tennis shorts? Or Marines who executed almost two dozen innocent civilians in a fit of mad obedience and rage? What is it, if not a thickly-coiled chain of ignorance, a long concatenation of deadly lies, and a trove of false beliefs, which move such events from nightmare to reality? And what are we, as the human beings who are not so chained and not so in thrall to lies, but the innocent bearers of the good and truly sacred thing that is life?
It is fitting that in the memory of all these dead we recall the past, contemplate the present and conceive the future as wiser, better, and more thoughtful people. How can we honor them at all if we don't, each one of us, work harder to make this a better world? I wonder what that golden heart of my cousin might have said to me if it could speak when I passed a hungry homeless woman begging along the highway here on Saturday.
Surely it was his good heart - and the gentle push a thousand others like him - that made me turn and stop to feed her some food I did not need. If only a billion of us would feel similarly moved by these honored dead to care, to find the value in our own hearts that would preserve and never destroy life, as a nation and a world we could be made whole. Then each of those grievous deaths would not wound but heal, and we indeed would honor them.