By David Hegg
While I was not yet living when it was fought, World War II has shaped so much of the world in which I have lived. It framed the whole idea of valor and courage and sacrificial service. And it wasn’t only those who served in uniform who experienced the war, and felt that they played a vital part in bringing about a good and swift conclusion to it. In truth, we were a nation at war. Soldier and civilian were on the same team, working for a common goal, with mutual respect and honor.
But something dramatic happened in America, and it was intertwined with the tragedy that was Vietnam. A radical breach occurred between soldiers and civilians. Those who served in uniform fought the war, while those whose lives went on unchanged sat back and critiqued them. Perhaps it was the drastic change in how war was perpetrated, or maybe it was the lack of a clear strategy of victory, or maybe it was a hundred other reasons, but in the end it became clear. We were not a nation at war, but rather a nation with some who had the unfortunate responsibility to be at war.
That distance remains today, between those who step into harm’s way and those who are protected by their service. Today, many men and women are at war, wearing American uniforms, enduring painful living situations while dodging bullets, bombs and improvised explosive devices. And, while we thank them for their service when they come home and we see them in the market, we no longer really feel what they feel when they are at war.
We sit and watch news footage of a few soldiers here and there, but it seems more like a video game than reality. We are becoming a nation that watches war, but doesn’t experience it. And while being preserved from the terrors of modern warfare may have many benefits, there is one tragic side effect. The truth is that, while we “thank them for their service,” we are in danger of losing any sense of what that service actually entailed.
This Memorial Day we remember those who died while fighting the wars that threatened our country and our way of life. We honor those who gave what Abraham Lincoln described as the “last full measure of devotion.” And it is right and good that a day is set aside to do so.
But even more important would be a concerted effort on our part to once again become a nation that is at war, whenever the hell of war is pressed upon us. Let’s not send our men and women into combat and think that we need not send our hearts and minds, our thoughts and prayers with them. Let us not continue to be a nation of spectators, or worse, a nation that ignores the reality that wars are fought by those who are our fellow citizens, who take part of us with them every time they put on the uniform.
If Memorial Day is a time to remember, let it also be a day to reinvigorate the whole idea of memory in us all. For anything to be remembered, it first must be experienced. To rightfully remember those who die in service to our country in the future we must be a nation that is one with them today. May this Memorial Day weekend find us intent on not only thanking them for their service, but also standing with them, and praying for them, in the midst of the battle.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.