Veterans’ Cemeteries: Waypoints along the Journey to World Peace
Curious about progress made toward achieving world peace in the past hundred years or so? The statistics are not encouraging. Take the American people, for example, a cheerful, optimistic, relatively hard working group who believe almost anything is possible if you try hard enough to achieve it. Then, type in the question, “how many Americans died in combat overseas,” in your favorite search engine, and chances are the answer you’ll get is around 440,000. This includes all wars fought on foreign soil from the Mexican-American War to the present day Wars on Terrorism (aka Iraq and Afghanistan). It does not include thousands more who lost their lives “in theater” meaning they were in the war zone but not on the battlefield; nor does it include those who died “outside the theater” as the result of war related activities. Why have so many of our men and women in uniform historically put themselves in harm’s way, when the above statistics suggest that death would likely be the outcome? Is it a sense of honor, patriotism, or duty? Maybe. But I suspect there is a much simpler answer. They did it because they thought it was the right thing to do; and that meant either defending our country or helping a neighboring country rid itself of an evil and oppressive enemy. Furthermore, there was a general belief that their efforts, if successful, would be rewarded with peace among our neighbors. I know my father, two uncles, and an aunt saw it that way when they served in World War II; and I certainly did when I fought in Vietnam. So, for that matter, did one of my stepsons who served in the Persian Gulf War.
So there you have it. Almost a half a million Americans sacrificed their lives for a cause that they believed, in one way or another would make the world a better, more peaceful place in which to live. Was their sacrifice worth it? An awkward question to be sure—-one that most appropriately should be answered by the families and loved ones of our fallen warriors. To make the question even more difficult to answer, consider this. Those who favor world peace are by definition against war. This seems logical. But times have changed, and the definitions of war and peace have changed. For example, the last time the U.S. declared war against another country was World War II. All subsequent conflicts including, Korea, Vietnam, The Persian Gulf, Iraq, and Afghanistan were defined as military operations authorized and approved by Congress. At the same time, the definition of “peace” has changed significantly since the World Trade bombing and subsequent terrorist attacks throughout the world.
Today, our nation is in peril from a determined enemy who is mostly unseen and sometimes lives amongst us. Meanwhile, bickering between our political parties in Washington has created a gridlock that renders us virtually leaderless. Yet incredibly, the men and women in our armed forces continue to put themselves in harm’s way every day in Afghanistan and other hotspots around the globe.
We just finished World Peace Day and that was a very good thing. Hopefully we will celebrate another next year. Meanwhile, when Memorial Day comes around next May, I would like all participants to join us in honoring the men and women in uniform who sacrificed their lives for their country. Hopefully it could be a politics-free day; no long winded speeches from politicians reading words written by someone else; who more than likely never saw combat or even wore a uniform. Instead, we could tear ourselves away from the TV, barbeque grill, or shopping mall; and go to a quiet, peaceful place like a chapel, monument, or cemetery. Once there, we could spend time in deep reflection, praying for the souls of those who paid the ultimate price for serving our country…..and for peace.
Ron Standerfer is a novelist, freelance writer, book reviewer, and photographer whose articles have appeared in numerous news publications including online editions of the Chicago Tribune, USA Today, and the Honolulu Star Advertiser. He is a member of the International Travel Writers & Photographers Alliance (ITWPA) and American Writers & Artists Inc (AWAI). He is a retired Air Force fighter pilot who flew 237 combat tours in Vietnam War. His novel, The Eagles Last Flight, chronicles the life of an Air Force fighter pilot during The Cold War and Vietnam years. He also publishes an online magazine, The Pelican Journal.