Memorial Day

Memorial Day

Hymn to the Fallen

On the afternoon of Memorial Day, I was listening on WCPE to John Williams' Hymn to the Fallen from the score of the film Saving Private Ryanwhen I was moved to tears by the music. The haunting music struck a chord of memories of violence in this country. The media headlines today are focused on gun violence that has killed more people than all the wars since WWII. We see reports of shootings in the schools and of shootings in the streets. We are learning day by day of the intransigence of the National Rifle Associations that dwarfs that of the tobacco companies in their fight against regulation. Violence is all around us every day so that we become so numb to it that it doesn't even register anymore.

Over that weekend I read a book Rogue Heroes by Ben Macintyre that told the stories of Britain's Secret Special Forces units that sabotaged the Nazis and changed the nature of war. Their tactics were adopted by the U.S. Delta Force and the U.S. Navy Seals in later years. Although their stories recalled a lot of derring-do bravado and the glory of war, they also revealed a surprising lot of personal stories of the individuals as human beings and how they accommodated to the nature of war. In our minds, murder is justified in pursuit of a "just" war. Of course, much of the past three decades has been enveloped in controversies of how "just" the wars have been in which the United States was the leader. But that's another story.

I wore my Navy hat to the Memorial Day luncheon of SAGE at the LGBT Center to demonstrate that I was a veteran and proud of it. Of course, I didn't have the time to tell everyone my story of how an intelligence spy was sent onboard my ship to have sex with the sailors and then report on them so they would receive a dishonorable discharge. At that time the Navy was extremely homophobic and regularly engaged in illegal entrapments to justify their actions about maintaining the purity of discipline and order. Those guys weren't physically attacked or murdered, but they were rendered virtually unemployable.

Of course, gays, lesbians, and transgender folks now can serve openly in the military and even get married at West Point. (By the way, the couple were later attacked after they left.) That doesn't mean that hostility or bias have gone away; it is openly practiced in the highest level of the U.S. Department of Justice. Apparently most of the abuse in the military now is applied primarily against women.

On Memorial Day again I was drawn back to the recollection of the cost not only in our wars of the past 100 years, but also to the wounded who continue to bear the scars of war not only on their bodies but also on their minds. We have a lasting legacy of wounds from Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan that our veterans have borne selflessly and with honor. Unfortunately, we have not chosen to honor them by providing the services they need.

At the same time, I was struck by the hate crimes of racism and homophobia that are being promoted by our President, who is supposed to serve as Commander in Chief. Prior to writing this, I read several reports on the statistics on hate crimes. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs data reveal that a substantial proportion of hate crimes, including those based on sexual orientation, are never reported to law enforcement authorities and thus are not reflected in the FBI’s hate crime statistics. This violence includes not only homicide, but also rape, and physical assault on persons. Some data also include attacks on property. If you burn someone's home, is that less serious than assaulting them?

If we are truly to honor the veterans of foreign wars, then we must do more than just salute the flag. We must honor them by coming to terms with the plain facts that we are a nation of internal violence fanned by division and hatred that only seem to be growing. We can become reconciled with each other, or we can let this nation come apart at the seams by our indifference.