Honoring our War Dead/The Day After


May 31, 2011 by Ron Madson


Die like a man—like your brother did”

–mother in Harlan, Kentucky 

            I am increasingly concerned that we as a nation are not doing all that we can to honor our war dead and those that currently serve in the military, and that we are further failing to make sure that their sacrifice means something that transcends the conflict in which they were/are each engaged.

I have waited to write this the day after Memorial Day. I did not want to interfere with  anyone’s celebration, flag ceremony, or their particular national narrative/platitudes.  But I do want to honor those who have given their service, and sometimes even their health and life for something they believed greater then themselves.

I thought of engaging in my past attempts of satire/parody to make my point (https://themormonworker.wordpress.com/2008/12/13/in-defense-of-blackwater-gangs-neocons/ or (http://themormonworker.net/past-issues/mw-issue-4/national-“floagophilia”)  but this is too important for those lives it affects to trifle with anything but plain language.

To “honor” someone is to respect and cherish them so much that you would never consider treating them less than a most beloved child, brother, confidant, and trusted member of your community.  With that as our standard, what do our present and future military men and women deserve?  I would suggest a few key offerings.

First, those in the military deserve to know the full truth as to any conflict in which they are asked to risk their life and health.  When I say truth, I mean the full unadulterated, unfiltered evidences as to the “why” we must go to war from all sources—even to the point of weighing our enemy’s perspective as to whether a war is really necessary. Our soldiers deserve no less scrutiny.  To honor them is to slow down and allow our elected representatives, and a free media to explore, inquire, have unbridled subpoena power, debate all the evidences, and then hear all the arguments for and against a war before putting them in harm’s way (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nf1N-y9Mbo4). And truth telling means to never fabricate or manipulate evidence to mislead in any way those whose honor would never allow themselves license to prevaricate when it comes to life and death matters.  Such honoring would never allow, for example, suppressing evidence as to the Gulf of Tonkin incidence or even attempt, much less create false intelligence as to “weapons of mass destruction.”   If the conflict cannot be justified on the raw, un-tampered evidence then it cannot be justified. If we believe in freedom then that freedom can only be exercised in an environment of free, unfettered truth telling.  The soldiers’ freedom to know and judge the justness of any war should never be compromised.  He/she should not be left to find out 25 years later (“Freedom of Information Act”—ultimate oxymoron) the real reasons for the war he/she is asked to place upon the altar the ultimate sacrifice of self.

Second, those in the military should only be required to defend themselves and our nation from nations who have attacked us.  They should never be required to engage in wars of aggression—ever.  If a nation or people have not attacked us nor have they declared war against us, then any pre-emptive invasions against that nation cannot, under any sane definition, be considered an act of self-defense. Moreover, to engage in any form of  “pre-emption” or even revenge is to become the very evil we deplore (see Doctrine and Covenants Section 98). Our military should never be required to invade another nation that has not attacked nor declared war against us.

Third, memorials are often used to bury or cover the truth more than reveal it.   If we discover that we were misled as a nation into sending our precious sons and daughters into a war that was unjust, then we are confronted with the almost unbearable reality that our loved ones may have fought, died and suffered in vain. It is then we must resist the inevitable and even predictable temptation to engage in what is called “mission creep”—-to allow our national pride and our inability to face the truth to cause us to confabulate new national narratives/stories/myths seeking to  “justify” the war.   It is in the crucible of this test that we may inflict the greatest dishonor on our military if we feel compelled to validate our past losses by placing more of our children on the war altar rather then face the truth that we might have seriously erred in judgment.  To honor our military we must de-link the virtue, courage and nobility of our soldiers from the unjustness of a war.  If we have the integrity and courage to face our national sins when they occur, then those who have died and suffered will not have died in vain.  Their sacrifice was the revelation necessary to arrest any further losses whether it be innocent civilians or their present and future comrades in arms.   We honor their sacrifice by repenting of our national sins rather then demanding more blood of our finest and best.

As a faith community, both those in and out of the military, that defines American Exceptionalism as being rooted in Christianity, there is no one person we profess to honor more than the Son of Man who came amongst us to show us a better way.   How do we honor Him?  He shows us in countless ways in both word and deed, through and including his death, to quit doing to others what we did to Him— no matter how much we have judged others worthy of our justice. Jesus gave voice for the “others” —the Samaritan, the sinners, and even one’s enemies.  And then He invites us to “offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood” (3 Nephi 19:9).  Our highest honor to our military would be our collective efforts in seeking any and all avenues of peace.   To do so requires us to love our enemies as ourselves.  If we truly loved our enemies we would seek every means possible to avoid conflict, never seek vengeance, and the only pre-emptive attack would be that of flooding our enemies with such mercy and humanitarian support that we would destroy their narrative about us.  We support the troops by following the example of the Prince of Peace.

Finally, for those of us who profess wisdom from experience and/or having been in the crucible of conflict, we owe it to our sons, daughters, and family members in the military to be so supportive of the burden that we have placed upon them, that we will not out of fear of being marginalized or even loathed by others in our national tribe, that we will fail to denounce an unjust war no matter how unpopular our dissent may be to our peers.  We do not honor our military by silence when we know better—in fact, as one great American proclaimed: “There comes a time when silence is betrayal”  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lrpqnZYAB6w).   As King Lear learned much to late, our most loyal, supportive subjects are those that speak the truth to us no matter how painful or unflattering it may be.   Therefore, for those of us who “denounce” our current wars of our nation, it is not because we do not love, support and honor our men and women in the military any less, but we honor you in protesting against those that would use your honor, courage and virtue for anything less than a truly just and noble cause.   And we support you by doing everything possible to not put you in harm’s way unless it is absolutely necessary. In memoriam of those who have sacrificed so much, we owe you no less.

Ron Madson   5/31/2011









8 thoughts on “Honoring our War Dead/The Day After

  1. Forest Simmons says:

    Well said! From my perspective, that of a ‘Nam veteran who took twenty years to make sense out of it, you are right on the money.

  2. Ron Madson says:

    The “honor culture” is so deeply engrained in all nations–especially ours, that I just do not see how we could ever de-link the immorality of our policies/aggressions from the need to “honor” those that we place on our national sacrificial altars? From Mark Twain, William James, Heller’s Catch 22 to the numerous anti-war voices in Viet Nam it seems that those voices fade as a new self created conflict arises. It seems generationally nothing really changes. Maybe technology/globalization has a real chance. we will see.

  3. rockwaterman1 says:

    I can’t get over how perfectly laid out this essay was. It deserves distribution far and wide; I have shared and emailed this to many of my friends with the request that they do the same.

  4. Ron Madson says:

    Thanks Rock. Somehow we have to each give our voice to reframing the issues surrounding our war narratives. Unfortunately Mitt and/or Obama are cruising towards our next target–Iran and who knows who else.

  5. chris says:

    Define “declare war”. Is “Death to America” a declaration?

  6. Ron Madson says:

    I would not consider a statement such as “Death to America” as a declaration of war even if uttered by their President anymore than they should consider the rhetoric of any of our leaders as a declaration of war. One, there is a translation issue. Second, unless there is a declaration accompanied by actually marshaling of their war machine such rhetoric could be for internal consumption primarily. Finally, unless and until another nation actually deliberately attacks our nation first I see no justification to strike first. Moreover, DC 98 invites us to live a higher law and have faith that we can diffuse/repel any further violence by raising the banner of peace in response to being attacked. Today, “death to America’ is chanted all the time and for good reason in my opinion. We have brutalized many in the middle east for decades in various ways.

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