Ralph J. Dolan: Memorial Day words to the lost
HAYDENVILLE — Listen, all of you slain in battle! I sing of you today. I sing of your courage as you reached to hold on to some ethical imperative. There is virtue in this long after history may have proven the cause of war to have been a lie.
I sing of your struggle to act like a human being when all of the forces around you demanded you act like a butcher. I sing of that instant when in the midst of the carnage there was a stirring of compassion in your heart. I sing of the fate that stared you in the eye — to give “the last full measure” of self-sacrifice.
I do not desecrate your memory. Nor do I encumber you with false adulation.
I am like you, one of you. I rise to the dawn and stroll out into the natural world which sustains me. I drink a fresh wind into my lungs and I see the treetops swaying.
Like you I have loved and seen babies brought into the world. Like you I laugh, I cry, I dream. Like you I have struggled to get the coordinates of my soul right so that when the moment of truth came I would not pause to count the cost.
A human being wants to believe that there is some higher purpose one can dedicate one’s life to, even die for. Many fairy tales have taken on the texture of absolute truth. We are all so hungry to believe in something. Patriotic fervor is a convenient way-station and for many becomes a permanent state of mind.
Many of you have died in a fit of patriotic fervor. Others perished in outrage at something happening in the immediacy of combat — a comrade’s cries, a peek into the dark chambers of insanity. Often there is banality, absurdity, in the step that brought you to death’s door. Turn a corner and there you are presented with the most elemental human proposition: kill or die.
Your lives are bartered on the tables where war games are played with elegant ruthlessness.
War is tiring, thankfully. The shuttle-diplomats arrive at negotiations behind bullet-proof glass and in Gucci shoes. Time goes by.
Nobody can remember what you were fighting about. Nobody agrees. All noble declarations are abandoned and the world rushes on headlong into the arms of the newest fashions.
Only you remain. A stone, a flag, a bunch of flowers whose petals have blown away in the night.
War is a lawless space carved out by humans. Some are looking for exciting business ventures — the spoils, lucrative government contracts and arms deals. It’s a space where all manner of human depravity is sanctioned. One who is sent into depravity and made to linger may become depraved.
Many of you have died in one of the little whirlpools of degradation that war stirs up abundantly.
Me? I am still here — marching, marching, trying to make some sense of it as the battles rage on
You are legion, you silent sentinels! Noble hearts slain in war! Your numbers stretch to the horizon and beyond. Your glory fills the heavens. I bow in your honor. I seek to live in a way that keeps alive some spirit in the depths of your sacrifice.
What do I say! Where do I begin! “Never again! Never, never again!”
Ralph J. Dolan of Haydenville served in Vietnam and has had a career as a licensed psychotherapist. His column appears on the fourth Monday of the month.