It’s good to remember and honor those who died in our many wars. However, as some of us know, the good is often the enemy of the best. We have recently observed Memorial Day. Through television, we have seen memorial services, both large and small, near and far. Through thousands of speeches, we have been encouraged to remember the fallen. Yet, there has been one supremely important note missing from most speeches.
Perhaps, if we are open-minded enough, we can learn from the Civil Rights Movement how to memorialize people. They fought a war for justice, equality and fairness. They fought it by using nonviolence. Yet, that war cost them dearly in terms of pain, suffering, and death. They built memorials to their heroes; people like Martin Luther King, Jr., Medgar Evers, Fred Shuttlesworth, and many, many others who were a part of the struggle for civil and human rights. You only have to visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Museum to see many of the relics of that struggle. One of the best displays is the burned Greyhound bus, from which freedom riders (who were nothing but young college students, both black and white, male and female) were pulled out of the bus by an angry mob and unmercifully beaten.
Across the street from the museum is the 16th Street Baptist Church where you’ll find a memorial for four little girls who were murdered in Sunday School by a bomb planted by a hate-filled racist. In the park directly in front of the museum, you can see the bronze statues of vicious dogs and water cannons that were used on the demonstrators, including the children. Those memorials and speakers who speak about those days normally don’t leave out the most important note, which is a statement, a statement that says loudly and clearly, “Never again! Never again!” Never again white-only schools, white-only restrooms, white-only water fountains, white-only movies, white-only restaurants. Never again being forced to sit on the back of the bus. Never again being denied the right to vote by racist trickery or racist redistricting. Never again having to get off the sidewalk for white people. Never again!
Shouldn’t this same missing note be sounded loudly and clearly for those who honor our war dead? Those who died in the War Between the States, World War I, World War II, the Korean Conflict, Viet Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and on and on the list goes. Don’t we have enough white crosses in our cemeteries? Don’t we have enough people without arms or legs? Don’t we have enough veterans so terribly shocked by the gruesome horror of war that they can’t function in society? Isn’t it time we say never again to war? Isn’t it time we learned to solve our differences without constantly going to war? Shouldn’t we be saying at our war memorials, never again!
I know some of you are thinking we’ve got to defend our country and our freedom. The sad truth to that widely-believed statement is that no country in the world has been a serious threat to the United States of America or to our freedom since December 7, 1941. Shouldn’t we be saying loudly and clearly, never again!
Robert G. Wilkerson, D.Min., is a minister, writer and co-founder of People For the Christian Way. firstname.lastname@example.org. PeoplefortheChristianWay.com