On Memorial Day, where we are supposed to be thinking of those who gave their lives for their country, I tend to think of those whose lives were impacted by war in all the other possible ways besides being a soldier – being a victim, for instance, or refusing to participate, or finding a larger cause to dedicate themselves to. I guess there is an element of snobbery there, for which I apologize. But it՚s also a function of my background – my father was a Czech Jew who served in the British Army during WWII, and I came of age during the Vietnam era, which did not inspire much patriotic war fever. So like many vaguely leftish people, I am in the position of trying to love my country while hating the larger part of what it does.
But the day is about the people who sacrificed, not the cause they sacrificed for. I think of them enlisting, with enthusiasm or trepidation or a simple sense of duty. It՚s an alien experience for me, and I admit to a surprising touch of envy: to immerse yourself so totally in a collective cause must be liberating in a way. We all must serve something greater than ourselves; how convenient to have that need packaged up in an institution for you. Us draft-dodger types have to work hard to figure out what we are fighting for and how to fight for it, and most of our efforts are dissipated by lack of effective institutions. The war against war involved some real risk too, and I՚m glad those who died in that struggle have a memorial. But on this holiday, let us forget the sides, the countries, the causes, the enmities, and think about what binds together all those who have risked themselves to fight for something they believed in.
Some of those beliefs may have been wrong, stupid, or evil, but I give the grunts the benefit of the doubt: they may have enlisted in a bad cause for good reasons. Finding yourself betrayed by your own bad judgement is one of the risks of war.