War and the Agony of Parents

This past Friday, my son was graduated from

Cal.

State

University with honors in Mechanical Engineering. In the sea of engineers walking up to the podium to receive their respective degrees, my

Aaron was one of three ME’s wearing the gold vestment over his gown, signifying his accomplishment and membership in Tau Beta Pi, the ME honorary society.

My initial feelings were those of pride and adoration. They was followed rapidly in sequence by two other emotions—one, a fear of loss, followed by that of grief for the losses of parents and loved ones of those of our children who have died in Iraq.

“Children?” you say. True, they are now adults, and not to be confused with those little creatures running about, laughing and playing. The fact remains, however, that they are someone’s children who couldn’t protect themselves from life’s dangers, and it grieves us to know it.

It hurts so badly. There’s something excruciating and at the same time infuriating, as we look down at the bodies of these helpless children–young men and women–given now, without their consent, to a respite they did not request, eyes closed, seemingly oblivious to our sense of loss.

It has a generic quality about it. You can see it in the faces and hear it in the voices of the detectives on “Forensic Files,” and “Cold Case Files, when they express their own pain as they relate the outrageous injustice of hideous and unnecessary deaths at the hands of malevolent misanthropes of society, those who deal out their inane and unjust punishment to innocents, similar to victims of the inquisition, and who die with one unspoken question on their lips:

“Why?”

These two scenarios have the same unfathomable meaninglessness; but what makes the losses in Iraq—and those of Viet Nam before it–even more exquisite are the deliberate and calculated lies and misinformation cynically proffered and pounded into the public’s awareness, given with a shrug, as if to say that the loss of these boys and girls really is for a higher purpose, which is to say, for the trivial pursuits of the ruling class.[i]

As bad as all this is, there remains one feature which can—and does—cause virtually a terminal and incurable remorse: the sickening sense that as parents we have failed our children. We have a nagging suspicion that we have failed to face the responsibility of standing alone in independent judgment of the legitimacy of this war, and of encouraging our children to do likewise, regardless of how such a decision might appear to others. We have an obligation to judge, not just what our leaders say, but what we may discover for ourselves if we would only take the time to look further.

Patriotism unqualified is seductive in that it promises us a quick fix to our conflict: Who is going to stand and be counted as one opposed to the noble purpose of risking one’s life in wartime? Who would dare find fault with a son or daughter who chooses to fight? Or is theirs perhaps a decision influenced by the anticipation of society’s disapproval, a decision born out of weakness, of cowardice?

On the other hand, is a decision to decline to charge into the fray really a carefully considered one? And how can we be sure?

This is vexing because on the surface it may appear that, in the eyes of others, a decision made on moral grounds to refuse to be part of a conflict might be indistinguishable from cowardice. We may even wonder if we are deceiving ourselves.

Watching the films of the 40’s, we see scenes in which soldiers are just chomping at the bit to get into the fray, to “pay ‘em back for what they did” to our way of life, or to our loved-ones, or to whatever and whomever. As we get older, we smile sheepishly at the re-runs. We are wiser now.

This wisdom is the unspoken remorse that I see in the faces and hear in the words of parents—of

Cindy

Crawford, of

Mary

Tillman–and it is unbearable to admit it: Could we have stopped them from going? Should we have tried? Our remorse works its way up perilously close to our consciousness.

If we are to condone the sacrifice of our children and loved ones, it had damn well better be for something so unassailably necessary and well worth the risk to protect, so dear, so precious, so inescapably important to our country, so cataclysmic in its import that, although never adequate, the conviction that all along there really was one and only one choice—at least mercifully will be of some solace, without and beyond a shadow of a doubt, to those who were party to that fatal and irrevocable choice,

…unlike the war in

Iraq.

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