I found myself with a spare day in a sunny, autumnal Washington DC and, wanting to avoid the crowds of the city, decided to drive over to Arlington National Cemetery and take a walk around.
This was years ago. Long before I had learned about Nonviolent Communication, Domination Systems, the Myth of Redemptive Violence, and so on. Walking past the monuments and graves dating back to the Revolution, I could see America’s past was bathed in blood. And tears. And pride. And patriotism.
I tried to imagine all the emotions the place had seen over the years. And failed. I tried to imagine the enormity of the wars represented by the multitude of
dead. And failed. I tried to reflect on the bravery of the deceased, and their kin. And came up empty.
For me, the overwhelming impression was of the waste. The appalling, senseless waste. And then, sorrow. Sorrow for all the fine young men, their sweethearts, their families, their townsfolk, their nation. And for our species. Sorrow for all the people who had unwittingly bought into the myth that fighting and dying for one’s country was a noble thing. The height of laudable self-sacrifice.
And respect, too. respect for the dead. And also for the living. Those, like the groundsmen, so devoted to trying to bring something good out of so much suffering.
I read the chiselled tributes to the courage of the fallen. And felt pity. Pity for their gullibility. Pity for their victimhood. And anger. Anger against the men who had sent them, indifferent to their potential. Just cannon fodder.
That day was a very sobering and influential day in my life. It was perhaps THE day that caused me to resolve to think different. To reject the comfortable platitudes of authority.
To see beyond the Myth of Redemptive Violence, and to reject it utterly.
And to question the value and nature of bravery. If bravery and courage means being willing to go like a lamb to the slaughter, I don’t want it.
Bob, A lovely post – if such a subject could be called so. Very thoughtful. Thank you.
I would like to think that we have moved on a little from an outward and aggressive display of bravery though I have my doubts.
I think the place we REALLY need bravery is internally, in our souls if you will. I suppose I like to idea of being assertive rather than aggressive, and starting with our own inner state. In my more positive moments I believe I see this movement towards working on the inner struggle rather than the outer one.
(Have tried to use my creativity to comment on this sort of thing in my Boundary Stories – though not sure it worked. Still a work in progress. http://charlestolman.com/2012/09/20/boundary-stories-4-wish-you-were-here)
Thank you again for your post.
The ethics of war and violence are complicated. In my view, war can be justified in certain circumstances. I think of WWII as an example of an instance where declaring war (and its inherent loss of life) as just.
Of course, we weren’t there at the time and perhaps trying to talk non-violently with Hitler would have prevented the incredible loss of life, but I’m not sad that we fought that war and won — which in my view prevented greater loss of life.