May 27, 2000

Spirit of Wisdom, how should I think about Memorial Day... a real source of ambivalence for me and many of my generation? Me, who, thirty years ago, rode the long, all-night bus ride twice to Washington, DC to march against the Vietnam War... and who in my passionate, impetuous youth, was ready to go to Canada with a boyfriend who was going there to evade the draft. How should I think about this war and the men and women who sacrificed their health, their sanity and even their lives for it... willingly or unwillingly?

Although no war is pure, I could easily honor those who served in World War II ... a just war. Although my father and uncles had been too old to fight in World War II, my family, as American Jews, supported the war against Hitler. But the Vietnam war was different. As a white, middle class person from Newton, I didn’t actually know anyone who had served in Vietnam, let alone died there... so the issue of how to think about these people was a bit abstract for me.

A few years after the war, I had a friend who had been in a soldier in Vietnam. Bob had suffered a wound to his hand there and it still trembled. He said that when he came home some people treated him rather badly, as if the war had been his fault and as if he was a murderer. I told him that I didn’t hold him responsible for what happened, that it hadn’t been his choice to go. I didn’t tell him about my ambivalent feelings towards him and other Vietnam vets.

Then about a decade ago, I went to another demonstration in Washington, this time for women’s rights. We spent all day in the hot sun listening to speeches at the Lincoln Memorial. A bit bored and curious, I took a walk over to the Vietnam Memorial nearby. I saw the long black polished marble wall – with the names of all the men and women who had died in the war etched on it. It was so stark and powerful. People had left flowers and other mementos under the names of their loved ones. As I walked along the wall, I found myself crying unexpectedly. After all, I knew no one whose name was there. I cried instead for all the lives cut short by the war, for all the sacrifices made and for all the grieving family, friends and lovers. There was no doubt, no ambivalence in my tears, only a deep mourning. Seeing all those names, I began to understand the feelings of loss of those who had experienced the war directly or indirectly. I grieved as well for those on the "other side," for the Vietnamese and Cambodians who had died in this senseless war.

I thought that in the end my quarrel was with the leaders, the political leaders who made the decision to go to war ... and the generals who fought the war... not with those who put themselves on the line for it ... either willingly or unwillingly.

May the Source of all life heal the wounds of body, mind and soul of those who have survived war.
May the Spirit of Love bring peace for those who have lost loved ones in war.
May we acknowledge and honor the service and sacrifice of those men and women who served in the armed forces during Vietnam and in all wars.
In this planet growing ever smaller, may we be inspired to work for a world where war is obsolete... for a future of equity, justice and peace.