This is a response to the WordPress.com prompt “Detonate”.
Today, Memorial Day, we remember the ones who perished. The ones who put themselves in peril for our sake. The ones who paid for our liberty with their lives.
My husband’s grandfather was one such man. He flew at the Battle of Midway, and perished in the fight. My mother in law grew up without a father from the age of 12. She christened a ship in his name and later a bridge. We have a shrine, of sorts, in our house. He deserves to be remembered.
When men and women die, protecting us and our country, we celebrate them as heroes. Would we ourselves have such courage, or be so willing to sacrifice?
When someone dies senselessly in an attack by terrorists, we consider them heroes too. We build monuments and we mourn, for all they could still have done, had their lives not been cut short. And those who perish in the course of responding to the attack are our heroes too.
Hard to imagine taking on a mission where return is uncertain. Would we be willing to fly the plane if there was not enough gas to get back? Would we march into the flames?
There was a need
On the Greatest Generation, Tom Brokaw’s documentary, one veteran put it more or less this way: We did it because there was a need. They needed pilots, so up we went, training or no training.
Their bravery astounds those of us who have never experienced war. Not close up, anyway. But for the ones who did the job, it was probably more like putting one foot in front of the other. It needed to be done. And so they did it.
Yet it is one-sided to romanticize war. While we celebrate the victories, we must remember. Where there are winners, there are alway losers.
Last night I was watching CNN’s Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain. Laos looks like a lovely place, and of course the food looks great.
But it was eerie to watch the interviews with survivors of the conflict we know as the Vietnam War. The contemporaries of Baby Boomers, bearing the scars of war.
The U.S. bombed them. But then the U.S. helped them afterwards. They seemed, at least on camera, to bear no grudges. Hard to imagine Americans being so forgiving.
Most horrible of all was the realization that, because of that war, because of us, there are still millions of undetonated shells littering the countryside, despite crews trying to remove them every day.
Hidden booby traps. Waiting.
And even to this day, children are the most frequent victims. Their own desire to play puts them in peril.
Perish the Thought
My first awareness of terrorism was little more than a childhood sense that the Middle East was always in conflict, would forever be in conflict. Then as I grew older, a vague idea of hijackers and Patty Hearst.
The first real immediate threat I ever felt was when I was in Germany and we were expecting a visitor to arrive by plane. Then we heard the news over the radio that a bomb had been found at the airport. Hours passed before we knew whether our visitor was safe.
Those were strange days to be an American in Germany, much like today, I imagine. An unpopular president held the reigns of our country then: unpopular abroad that is. I’m sure Trump would not mind the comparison to Reagan.
But, at the time, most of my German friends thought that a nuclear World War Three was about to be fought between the Soviet Union and the U.S.. Right there on German soil.
Since I’ve had children, the threats in the US and Europe seem to have increased in frequency. Oklahoma City, 9/11 and only in the past few years, many European targets have been hit, with fatal effects. Places I used to think of as safe. Places I would like to show my children someday.
Unlike the attacks of states, who have threatened America in the past, these attacks seem more indirect. Who the victim is, is not important. Only that there be victims.
They seek to make us afraid. They want us to watch our step. They want us to question whether it’s safe out there.
Their grievances and their anger still survive, years and years after whatever conflict first inspired them to hate us. They hold a grudge.
And they randomly pepper the landscape of our civilized world with buried landmines, ready to explode, at the slightest trigger.
Hidden booby traps. Waiting.
And we just want to play.