“The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country….” -from an order from the Grand Army of the Republic
150 Memorial Days later, where are we? Today, we spend more on military around the world than all the other nations combined. Despite our demands to other nations, we continue to amass and test nuclear weapons capable of destroying the world as we know it. We choose to police, occupy and wage war in many nations while we neglect the critical human needs in our country. There is an effort currently underway to re-imagine the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr imagined just before his death to highlight the plight of this nation’s poor. In 1968, Dr. King argued that we would “never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube”. And yet here we are, still not able to learn that lesson. Today it is not Vietnam — it is Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Palestine, Afghanistan, Korea and so many other places where we spend money that could be better spent solving human crises at home. Instead, families in this country and around the world mourn loved ones and young people face life wounded and challenged. 150 years ago, the people who set about to decorate graves of soldiers did so to heal the wounds of war. Today, it is becoming a way to celebrate war and wave the flags of nationalism.
Healing the wounds of war has become far more urgent and far more complicated than simply putting flags and flowers on graves. This weekend must be a call to stay in conversation however difficult it is — to keep talking and listening about immigration; about racism and the plight of our nation’s poor; about allocating our planet”s scarce resources; about our preoccupation with military solutions to complicated problems; and about guaranteeing basic human rights to all people. These are the conversations that will help us truly heal and give honor to all who have died in the search for those ideals…