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Memorial Day and the Full Narrative of War

Members of Afghans for Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War, and allies lead a thousands-strong march against a NATO summit in Chicago in May 2012. (Photo: Iraq Veterans Against the War)

I am not a big fan of patriotism or the holidays that glorify it (although admittedly I’m a sucker for marching band music). I’ve never quite understood the sense of arbitrary national boundaries, which then seem to need to be defended just because they are there. Neither am I a fan of wars fought in the name of those boundaries, because when you strip away the rhetoric, they essentially boil down to exercises in asserting dominion and power over a perceived adversary that cost a lot of money, do a lot of damage, and ruin a lot of lives.

Yet we insist on glorifying war and honoring those who fight while at the same time doing everything we can to minimize the carnage of those battles in our histories and memories.

A few months ago, I started taking a Tai Chi class which is taught by a nice woman named Nancy, who is both older and a lot more agile than I am. For those of you not familiar with Tai Chi, it involves moving through a series of poses in a very prescribed manner. It is both an exercise and a meditation. Nancy tells us during class that if we practice enough, we will develop what she calls muscle memory—that the time will come when we will not need to be told how to move through the poses, at some point, we will just remember.

Unfortunately, the same can be said for war–we’ve gone there so many times that it has become politically reflexive. When it comes to peace, however, we’ve had far too little practice.

In my Tai Chi class, we are learning what is called 12 form Tai Chi, which means that there are 12 exercises to learn. There are other versions of Tai Chi that have more than 100 exercises. Obviously it takes a great deal longer to learn and develop the muscle memory of the longer form.

When it comes to talking about war, our politicians and media are quite adept at simplifying the talking points they want us to remember. They would never think of pitching 100 talking points, we would never learn that. But their simplified narrative is all too easy to remember and accept. Unlike Tai Chi however, where a simplified version of the practice can be done without sacrificing the benefit, when we talk about war and leave out a significant part of the story, it is very damaging. And if we are ever to practice peace, we need to tell the full narrative of war.

Memorial Day

In memory,
not of the soldiers of war
who bear the false flag of patriotism,
the defenders of empire’s entitlement,
but of the ones
our narrative wants to forget,
the collateral damage of battle
for whom there is no holiday,
no brass band,
no wreaths solemnly laid,
these are the ones we must remember.

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Lucinda Marshall

Lucinda Marshall is and artist, activist and writer. She is the Founder and Director of the Feminist Peace Network and the author of Reclaiming Medusa.

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