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Memorial Day Reflections

Posted: May 30, 2011

Personally, today isn't a day to celebrate wars. It is to celebrate bravery that so many exhibit at their own peril. They stay behind with fallen comrades to ensure their survival when bombs might also kill them. They trudge through a barrage of bullets, carrying fallen companions to give them respect by not leaving their dead bodies behind. These are the moments that media sometimes reports that swell our hearts with pride for the shining character of our fellow human beings.

One film that showed the height to which human beings can rise during degrading conditions is Passchendaele. Canadian Actor, Paul Gross wrote, co-produced, directed, and starred in the 2008 Canadian war film. Passchendaele focuses on war experiences told to him by his grandfather, Michael Dunne. Dunne served in the 56th, 5th, 14th, and 23rd. Reserve Battalions, CEF in the First World War at the Battle of Passchendaele also known as the Third Battle of Ypres. Final scenes in Passchendaele depict the legendary crucifixion of a Canadian soldier by Germans. It fictionalizes a heroic rescue and momentary respect given to the rescuer by a German commander. The commander allowed the soldier's rescue when moved by his wounded comrade ceaselessly continuing toward his friend despite danger to himself when crossing the battlefield. Canadian media and history would have made much about such a feat of heroism if it were genuine and not fictionalized. Internet sources did not confirm that rescue of the crucified soldier ever occurred.

Most reviewers overlooked one of the film's comments about war. The crucified soldier was the brother of Dunne's love interest, who he vowed to protect. Despite hating war and what it made of him, the character Dunne signed for another tour to follow David into battle to keep his promise. Love can lead to heroism, and even our enemies can recognize heroism. Enemies are human too, who might just long for higher ideals as do we. True heros of wars are not in the war rooms plotting strategic strikes, but in the battlefields fighting for their lives.

Modern war movies like The Great Raid and Pearl Harbor seems to focus more on bravery of soldiers protecting their own than the machismo of killing more enemies. In Pearl Harbor the camera did pan several enemy flags painted on the side of a plane, representing strikes. It gave them a cursory glance as if recognizing that is part of our history and some of our attitudes, but less important than how we behaved in war. Not that we didn't get even, but we did so from moral outrage against extreme injustice.

Most of us will never personally know anything about fighting in battlefields. We haven't even seen draped coffins of the fallen until recently let alone horrors our young men and young women endure daily.

The news magazine show, 20/20 aired a segment about a young soldier hit directly with a missile that didn't explode. He was still alive with a hot rocket embedded in his side. Though the manual said to do otherwise, his comrades didn't leave him behind. Not one troop, helicopter airman, or medic refused his rescue. At their own peril when the missile could explode, they saved this one person, who went on to live, walk again, and lead a productive life.

Some might call it karma as though paying off debts or working out lessons. It too is the exhibition of those with strong Life Forces. Those soldiers didn't give lip service to being 'pro life' then send young people to die in wars so they could enjoy their own lives unharmed by terrible consequences.

One doesn't need to be a soldier in war to exhibit bravery. Bravery shows in small acts of kindness. Do we still help little old ladies across the street or make cookies for ailing neighbors? Do we help the poor, disabled, and elderly? Or else, do we make the 'hard' choices by burdening them to balance the books without infringing on the rich?

Especially in times of wars, we like to think of ourselves as the righteous ones. No doubt, average citizens are. So, of course, we want to help those less fortunate. However, do they deserve benevolence only if they are born into the right families, so they learn to make right choices not turning their lives on a self-destructive downward path?

When we haven't enjoyed protected and privileged lives, we know that life can be a coarse obstacle-course. We know that anything can happen at any moment to take away all that we've worked hard to earn. We learn compassion.

People want to be in charge who have never experienced the 'slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,' to quote the Bard. Often, many lower ranked officers who experienced battle then became Generals are averse to wars as answers to human differences. They don't make choices for the lives of others on a whim, and surely would never brag about such grave decisions.

Do we want some leader who is fresh out-of-the-box deciding for the rest of us, but who has no wide frame-of-reference? Putting the onus on advisors is a poor substitute when some inexperienced leader couldn't possibly know if the advice is really wise when never experiencing life directly. Do we want one with a few battle scars showing that he or she has sufficient experience and knowledge when righteously certain how the rest of us should live?

... stay tuned ...

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