Monday, May 26, 2008

The Death of War

Reading a New York Times business page (business?) story in today's paper about how the media are turning their backs on our wars, I was reminded of “1984,” George Orwell’s classic cautionary novel.

In the book, Oceania had been at war for so long that its people (the proles) simply accepted the propagandistic slogan “War is Peace.”

War had subsumed its opposite and become a meaningless, soul-numbing given. It was not even a question of acceptance. It simply was.

You can imagine the proles’ acceptance as beginning with what is happening to our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. By degrees, Oceania’s wars became no longer newsworthy and the redrafting of history began. (How rarely do we see the Iraq war discussed in terms of Iraq’s vast oil reserves and the Bush administration’s oil lust.)

Here is Orwell on how wars are manipulated and forgotten:

Oceania was at war with Eastasia. Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia. A large part of the political literature of five years was now completely obsolete. Reports and records of all kinds, newspapers, books, pamphlets, films, sound-tracks, photographs - all had to be rectified at lightning speed. Although no directive was ever issued, it was known that the chiefs of the Department intended that within one week no reference to the war with Eurasia, or the alliance with Eastasia, should remain in existence anywhere.

Memorial Day is an antidote to an Orwellian world. We set it aside to remember war and its huge costs. To honor the dead. To make their sacrifice visible to those who would forget or ignore.

This day. A single day. Once a year.

And, in contrast to so many other days in recent months, this day often inspires remarkable journalism — much of it about the sacrifice, and yes, the waste, of war. The op-ed pages of today’s Oregonian have three such pieces of writing.

The lead editorial, “One of many, one of one,” and two columns, “Surviving in the not-so-new Iraq” (found elsewhere on the web) and “Sifting memories from a lifetime ago.”

If you have time for only one, read the last as well as that first New York Times' story.

Memorial Day also should honor not only those who fought, suffered and died in wars, but those who fought war itself. In Christ's words: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be known as the children of God.” They fought war by telling of its horrors. By protesting. By going to jail. And, yes, by dying.

I began by saying that Orwell's fiction described wars as simply far-away forgotten, endless parts of existence.

For many, wars are not far-away, but they are endless parts of existence. They can not be forgotten. They a seared on the soul. Those who fight wars know that even after the victory, truce, evacuation or retreat, wars never end. For hundreds of thousands of veterans and their families, wars rage on in their lives and in their hearts.

I pray that some Memorial Day we will mark the death of war. That amidst the sad remembrances, we will have cause for celebrating the end of the killing — that we all, here and around the world, shall reaffirm the pledge of Chief Joseph to “Fight no more forever.”

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