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Monday, May 28, 2012

My View of Memorial Day

  Here in the United States we take the time to honor those Americans who fell in defense of our country on this last Monday in May.  War is never glorious.  War is never to be desired.  Yet war cannot always be avoided.  But sometimes, though we cannot always understand it, wars have been desired, wars have been glorious, and wars that could have been avoided have been fought.
  The American Civil War was one such war that many men desired despite the fact that it could have been avoided.  It is also a war that has been elevated to the status of a Glorious Struggle.  Great men have written great words to describe what was only a family argument that ended in the spilling of more American blood than all other American wars combined.  I do not take this moment to debate the rights and wrongs of that war.  I will confess that as a young man I loved to read about this war, visit the battlefields, and even dreamed of participating in it.  I have lived on both sides of the battle lines, and have lived among the descendants of both armies.  I can tell you that both camps take great pride in the events of that bloody conflict.  Many of them understand the importance of remembering in order to prevent such tragedy again.  Many do not.  But I am only taking this opportunity to remind us all what can happen when political division is taken too far.
  No, I don't believe our current disagreement over taxes will lead to a full-scale war.  But such a war occurred in 1776, and thousands of men died as a result.  No, I don't believe our argument over abortion will lead to combat in the streets of small towns all over the East Coast.  But such a war occurred in 1861 over the argument of slavery and hundreds of thousands of men died for it.
  By one account, there are seven civil wars presently being fought in the world.  A recent United Nations report found that since 1970, more deaths from civil war have occurred than deaths in all other wars fought in that period.  They are also lasting longer, from an average of two and a half years (pre-1970) to over three times that by the year 2000.  This kind of strife is horrific, tearing communities and families apart.  It leads to bitterness that can hardly be described. 
  The personal attacks that I have already begun to see during this political season in the United States saddens me.  I rarely hear anything close to actual debate about any issues.  Our ability to participate in rational discussion over emotional tirades seems to grow weaker each year.  I know that you can go back to the historical record and find plenty of emotional histrionics in the old campaigns.  But today, with our constant barrage of social interaction on the web, it would be prudent to pull back and look at how we treat each other.  Harsh words are easily tossed about when you do not have to look your victim in the eye.  But those words linger even longer on the web than if they were only said in person.  An attack on a social network can be read again and again, and passed around far more accurately than gossip.  And this kind of thing leads to serious conflict.
  If the only option you have to defend your position is to attack your opponent, you have already lost the debate.  Promote your position.  Do not tear down your opponent's position.  Otherwise, find something else to talk about since it is obvious you do not know enough about the subject at hand.
  The photographs are from Gettysburg National Military Park, from June of 2011.  My visits to such parks no longer inspire me.  While I respect those who sacrificed their lives for something they believed in, I am simply overcome by the sheer tragedy of it all.  I am baffled by the lack of rational conflict resolution.  Perhaps by living on both sides of the battle line I have learned to see both sides of the story.  And neither side fills me with pride.

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