US Army Capt. Ferris Butler sprays on sunscreen at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., in preparation for a multi-state ride to raise funds for cycling programs to benefit injured veterans. Butler was wounded in Iraq on Dec. 21, 2006.
(Photo: Susan Biddle / The Washington Post)
For many of us who have known war, it has been years since we faced the insanity of man's inhumanity to man. Yet, it haunts us still. It is the nature of war, I think, that we can still recall with frightful realism, the rifle butt and bayonet that forced a weary body to continue the seemingly endless trek of the Bataan Death March, or appreciate the gentle beauty of a snowflake without recalling the blood stained snow banks of the frozen Chosin Reservoir. Not a day goes by, I think, that we do not recall the devastating screams of a comrade who died in our arms while taking and then giving back a useless and desolate hill top in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, or wake up screaming as we relive the horror of the bloodstained streets of Fallujah.
It is the nature of war, I think, that we shall never forget and need no holiday to remind us. As warriors, we may know little of the politics of diplomacy and international affairs. But no one knows war better than we who did the killing, and the dying, and the remembering, and the grieving. For we are neither war's initiators nor its beneficiaries, we are its victims.
In war, we are conditioned to put aside the lessons of our youth, of our parents, teachers, and clergymen who stressed the importance of compassion, understanding and loving our fellow man. We are transformed into warriors capable of unleashing untold horrors and devastation. The legacy of war, therefore, is not of honor or glory, for such virtues can never be derived from causing the death and suffering of so many of God's children. War is in fact hell as is living with the memories and nightmares.
On this Memorial Day, I do not celebrate the successes and victories of wars long gone or those currently being fought, as war is not a cause for celebration. Rather, it is a day like any other in which I remember and grieve the deaths of those who fought by my side and those against whom I fought. The warrior is conceived in the womb of battle, breathed life in the midst of suffering and death, and lived, loved and hated with such intensity that life ever after loses its meaning. I believe, sometimes, that death in war is benevolent, and those who died more fortunate than we who are condemned to live as penance for the sacrilege of war.
This bond or brotherhood of the warrior, or better, of victims, is sacred to us and it has become our purpose to ensure that those whose lives were sacrificed on the beaches of Normandy, at the Pusan Perimeter, at Khe Sahn, and in Haditha should never be forgotten. We certainly shall never forget them for they have touched our lives so deeply, and their young faces visit us so often in our dreams. And those of us who truly know war, will never allow others to forget them either, nor profane their memory by using their sacrifices to encourage other young men and women to march blindly off to battle for a cause that is misguided or nonexistent.
War has taught us that patriotism has its place as long as it is tempered with reason. And war has taught us that the suffering of children who inevitably do the fighting is so great that everything must be done to ensure that human life never again be wasted on the field of battle. For isn't that why we made our sacrifices and those that we allege to remember and honor gave their lives. And war has taught us that when the frenzy of death and destruction has subsided and the smoke of battle has cleared, amidst the death and suffering that remains there are no winners, only shattered lives and grieving families and loved ones. And war has taught us that if those of us who know the insanity of war find solace in embracing the fantasy of glory and heroism and allow those blinded by greed, hatred, misunderstanding, and misguided patriotism, to again place our children on the battlefield unnecessarily, the very survival of our nation, perhaps, even of our species, may well be placed in jeopardy. War has taught us this.
We must mark this Memorial Day, then, not with parades and air shows that celebrate the instruments of destruction. Nor with picnics or sales at the mall. Rather, we must use it to remind all Americans of the tragedy of war, of its futility and waste. We must make them understand, distasteful though it may be, the true nature and the lessons of war.
Camillo "Mac" Bica, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. His focus is in Ethics, particularly as it applies to war and warriors. As a veteran recovering from his experiences as a United States Marine Corps Officer during the Vietnam War, he founded, and coordinated for five years, the Veterans Self-Help Initiative, a therapeutic community of veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He is a long-time activist for peace and justice, a member of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and a founding member of the Long Island Chapter of Veterans for Peace. Articles by Dr. Bica have appeared in Cyrano's Journal, The Humanist Magazine, Znet, Truthout.org, Common Dreams, AntiWar.com, Monthly Review Zine, Foreign Policy in Focus, OpEdNews.Com, and numerous philosophical journals.