Who is a Patriot?
If you were to ask me to define a patriot, I would say that they are an individual who heartily supports their country and will take steps to defend it from attackers. If you were to ask me, do I consider myself a patriot, I would say no because, unlike my elder brother, I have no desire to ever take up arms in defense of the United States. I am a humanist or a person who believes in the potential value and goodness of human beings and focuses on the common human needs of all and rational ways to solve human problems. I cannot succinctly (briefly) put the feelings I have on war in a blog post but what I can say is that I understand the paths that lead us as human beings to war and that, in some cases, it can be one of few options. However, I recognize that my personal convictions lie more in pacifism (being a peacemaker) and conscientious objection (one who objects to a particular requirement based off their own beliefs such as serving in the armed forces).
That said, I understand my personal objection is a privilege afforded to me because of the sacrifices of those who are willing to take up arms and are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to defend those of us who could not or would not. My belief in peace stems from my father who had once been in the United States military as a younger man and the anger that many Black men like himself felt when they realized their actions would not afford them the same freedoms and considerations that they fought for at home.
Yet despite this contradiction of truths there have been people throughout our history in the United States who have faced oppression, discrimination, hatred, suspicion, and strife yet have been willing to fight, protect and serve our nation’s and our own interests abroad. Many of these individuals did so at the cost of their own lives. Memorial Day is a day in which we take time to honor these fallen patriots for their willingness to sacrifice their lives.
This Memorial Day
Now, this time of year, you will see many suggestions on how to celebrate these fallen men and women. Some of the suggestions may include make a patriotic craft or dessert, read a book about Memorial Day, fly the flag or attend a parade (which given COVID-19 is still very much part of our lives, may not be a safe idea). I am going to challenge you to do more. I want you to go beyond visiting a memorial, laying flowers on a grave, donating money to veterans causes, making a craft or participating in the Buddy Poppy program. Do all those things or some of them, but I challenge you to do more.
COVID-19 has given us time to really examine who we are not only as individuals but as a nation. It has given us time to examine what our values are, how we treat one another in this nation, and how we behave as global citizens. It would not be remiss to say that evaluation has found in many areas that we are lacking. I know with vaccinations there is an eagerness to get back to business as usual, but I am begging you to pause.
This last Monday in May I challenge you to think about the ideals, causes and principles that these valiant individuals fought and died for. The reasons we have gone to war have been many - these brave souls died fighting for freedom, for grand ideals, for political grudges, for expansion, for restitution, for independence, for family, for hope for the future and to be seen as valuable contributors to this nation. Nevertheless, I challenge you to look at the realities of this nation and ask yourself, "how have I championed the ideals and beliefs that we as a nation asked these individuals to die for and should we have asked for that sacrifice?" I challenge you to tell the truth; to not pass untrue history to our children and admit mistakes that have been made since before the founding of this nation. Ask how you can ensure that ALL Americans and those around the world can live in peace, be valued, and have equitable access to resources.
What I am asking of you is not an easy task. I am asking you to, as Americans, pause to ensure the fights we find ourselves in are worthy causes and if they are not to stand up and say so. I am asking you to be willing to say the ideals we have championed, such as democracy and freedom, in our military actions abroad are just as important causes to fight for at home in our streets. I am asking you to give to veterans, or better yet demand (and I mean demand), that those who gave the most are recognized and treated with compassion here at home. I also ask that if you find individuals who tarnish that legacy of service with their actions, regardless of if they wore a military uniform once or not, be vocal in calling them out. I ask you to make sure that war is always our last option and never our first. And IF you find yourself lacking after this examination, find ways to change that, because as a pacifist the way I honor those who sacrifice their lives is to find way to ensure that sacrifice was not squandered. To quote John Kerry our current United States Presidential Envoy for Climate “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”.
To the honorable dead and all veterans who will be remembering fallen comrades-in-arms. I thank you and your families for your sacrifice and service.