This weekend, I traveled to Columbus, Ohio, to visit my parents, brother and sister-in-law. My dad, 93 years old, recently fell and broke some ribs, so after spending time in the ER, he was sent to a convalescent home to get his strength back. He was on active duty just after “the war” ended.
I decided to run a race in Dublin, Ohio, called the Fallen 15K. This race honored the memories of 15 soldiers killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. When I arrived, I visited the tents where the Gold Star families displayed pictures of their lost children, husbands (all were male), parents, or siblings. Some displays included the medals the dead were awarded while serving in the armed forces. I did not look closely at the memorabilia, nor did I talk with the people standing around the tables. I could have, but I knew I could never fully understand their grief, nor did I have any words to say to heal the wounds of those who remained behind. Nonetheless, I should have said something.
I moved away from the display tables to where a sign, using large block letters, was set up on the grass that identified the race: Fallen 15K. As I turned back toward the families and the many veterans in the crowd who were waiting for the race to begin, I felt a wave of sadness. I thought I might cry. I was sad for the families, but mostly sad for everyone who participated in this senseless war, where the best resolution of differences between people that was found has been an ongoing and ever-expanding fight to the death. There is no end in sight to the wars or suffering.
The lessons of history were ignored or misunderstood by those who thought, “This time, the war will be different.” Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld believed that people in Afghanistan and Iraq, who had no experience with democracy, would embrace a new form of government. Our leaders compounded the error by arguing that the US should not be in the business of “nation building.” No need to preserve the infrastructure, no need to understand the political history of the invaded lands, and no need to worry about outside forces. We have little to show for the lives that have been sacrificed and the money that’s been spent, and I doubt that the lives of the people in the affected countries have improved either. War is always a lose-lose proposition. It’s only justified when it prevents both sides from losing much more than is otherwise possible.
The race was being held in a well-to-do area of the city, where the horrors of war are difficult to imagine. It was a cool Saturday morning following an overnight rain that cleansed the air. The location was a brand new high school bordering a large city park. Peaceful. Amid this tranquility and the symbolism for bright days ahead, the Gold Star families were thinking about the past and their loses; they understood the pain of war. So too did the veterans. Robert F. Kennedy, who spoke to a crowd in Indianapolis in 1968, informing them of the assassination of Martin Luther King, understood the depths of despair. RFK said, “My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He wrote: ‘In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.'” Kennedy, a rich white man from the East, was able to unite a crowd of mostly poor and middle class blacks in the Midwest, by sharing his feelings of grief caused by the loss of his brother, and offering consolation.
No-one at the race was complaining. The theme of the race was patriotic; the message was not one of protest. The Fallen 15K was run to remember those who gave their lives while serving their country–right, sorta right, or wrong. We must remember their sacrifices, but keep in mind that wars always represent a kind of failure. While there are heroes in war, there is no glory. The glory belongs to those who prevent bloodshed whenever possible and who make the world a better place to live in, a world in which war and injustice is a thing of the past.