Monday, June 6, 2011

A Late Memorial Day Thought


Blog posts aren’t supposed to take forever. They lose relevance.

Yet I’ve been writing and editing this particular post for more than a week, and I finally understand why. I’m baffled. Let me explain.

I think that James Altucher and I would argue. A lot. Yet I’d treasure the arguments.

I don’t know James Altucher. From his posts, I probably know more details about his life than I know about the lives of my own brothers.

We’d argue because we have different world views, but that’s understandable. We come from different backgrounds, and he’s more clever than I, having made and lost a number of fortunes. We have a few common losses, but those are other stories. He stretches his own mind and challenges others to do the same. I like that.

The post that got me was on Memorial Day. A casual reader might mistake his post as anti-Memorial Day. When I first glanced at it, my thought was “Wait a minute here!” and I’ll admit to immediate teeth-grinding. Then I read it.

I come from a military family. My paternal Grandpa was in the Air Force in WWII. Both my maternal Grandparents were in the Army in WWII. My Dad served in Viet Nam, and I missed it by about five years. I have three brothers who all served in the military, as well as a sister-in-law. I’m the black sheep. It’s not that I’m a pacifist. In high school I planned to go in the military. As a senior, I dutifully took the bus ride to Detroit and flunked the physical, which was okay with me because I couldn’t stand having a five-foot-nothing Chief Petty Officer yelling in my face. In the last two months of high school I found some scholarships and went to college. I think Dad was disappointed. On Memorial Day, I am too.

So Memorial Day, for me, is a day to be thankful for my direct family. Thanks Grandparents. Thanks, Dad. Thanks, Brothers. I love you all and appreciate the MRE’s you had to eat for me. You are my heroes.

You’re James Altucher’s heroes too.

His thought-provoker was the value of war, not the mettle of the heroes. And I had to think about what he posted. After a week of writing and major editing, I finally realize I am baffled. There is no value in war. I never thought there was. To agree with this pre-conceived conclusion I had to dig deep into my psyche, and then think about governments. That’s the cause of my bafflement.

James Altucher says that the United States arrived too late to save the six million Jews that Hitler killed in WWII. The US also did not arrive in time to help the five million Polish people killed by The Third Reich.

In WWII the US military didn’t arrive in time to free Frau and her husband from the Nazi occupation of their home in Lodz, Poland. Forewarned that the Nazi commander living in their house planned to kill them, Frau and her husband fled. The US military didn’t arrive until months later to free Lodz. By then Frau and her small family were already refugees. Yet the US military did help thousands of others in Lodz. The US military did free the few remaining Jewish occupants of the Lodz ghetto, the ones who hid instead of getting on the final Nazi trains.

But you can never arrive in time to help those already killed.

Remember the age-old science fiction time-travel question? If you were transported back in time before Hitler took power, knowing what you know, would you kill him? If you had the power, would you start a war to stop him, to take him prisoner based on what you know he’d do? Would the mass genocide in Europe be avoided?

We wouldn’t know if genocide was avoided. All we would know is that some insane government, claiming future knowledge, toppled an existing government.

Consider Iraq. Hussein exterminated thousands of his own people in pockets of genocide. The United States was pivotal in toppling Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. Our government didn’t have future knowledge. We attacked a person (Hussein) for what we thought he was going to do. Minority Report comes to mind. Did we arrive in time to help those he might have killed? We don’t know. We never will.

My friend’s son died in Iraq, just before he turned twenty. Along with thousands of other men and women from countries across the world, he died a hero trying to help people he didn’t even know. Carefully read James Altucher’s post and you see he also calls them heroes.

James Altucher says that war is a bad thing, the deaths of young men and women a tragedy. I think that sums up his post correctly. I agree with him. Our government sends young men and women to die for its own reasons, often disguising these as “fighting for freedom.” But I notice that governments don’t have enough courage to do the right thing at the right time. Even when the world sees the beginnings of a horror, governments don’t react. The Rwandan genocide is the perfect example.

The Rwandan genocide happened less than two decades ago. Our government did nothing. In fact, on “April 21, 1994, the United Nations Security Council, at the behest of the United States—which had no troops in Rwanda—Belgium, and others, voted to withdraw all but a remnant of” the UN troops in Rwanda . The UN did nothing, even though they were fully informed by their own on-site commander, Canadian Lieutenant General Romeo Dallaire, that the genocide was about to occur. In one hundred days a million Rwandans were killed. The Rwandan regime slaughtered men, women and children in a planned genocidal attack. The world did nothing. Most of the world knew nothing, since news services merely reported a small uprising in this African nation.

With a little courage, the United States could have stepped in and stopped this slaughter. Or would this have been deemed an invasion? After all, stopping the genocide, the genocide would not occur, so the existing regime could deny the plans so carefully laid. So I agree with James Altucher. I cannot think of anything good that ever came from war.  Yet I’m baffled, because I cannot see how a government can step in and stop a slaughter that hasn’t yet occurred.

I’ve disagreed with people in my past. War is not just a disagreement. War is one governmental group saying they want to impose their own world view on another group. War is one group saying they want control of the money and resources of another group. War is a small body forcing involuntary compliance on an entire group of people.

So I remain baffled. Heroes still abound. One hero I know lives a Spartan lifestyle in Rwanda, helping the widows and orphans of the genocide.  His brother, who died in the fighting. is also a hero. The nineteen year old soldier who died in Iraq fighting for freedom (and that is what he was doing, regardless of why he was sent there) is a hero, as well as all his comrades.

So Memorial Day is for the heroes. The wars do not deserve memorials, but the men and women who fought in them do, both living and dead. Thanks you, heroes.

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