Thursday, June 16, 2005

The WWII Memorial

The Fam Reunites in DC

Hey folks, Bob here. The family came to visit me in Virginia, so we spent a few days together in our nation's capital. Washington DC is a great city, and the new World War II memorial is touching and beautiful. We spent the first day and a half at museums, and the next day and a half at monuments, memorials and Arlington Cemetary. The last day and a half seemed to me to be much more meaningful. Memorials are symbolic in nature; they speak a language beyond words, and thus allow the observer to create his or her meaning.

As a man dedicated to justice and peacebuilding, I found the war memorials evoked a more complex reaction than they used to. On the one hand, these places honor men and women who sacrificed their lives for duty or love of country or other values they may have held dear. This aspect created a sober and reverent sense within me. On the other hand, these sites offer no challenge the systems and powers that asked men and women to "give their last full measure of devotion." Indeed, one incription on the WWII memorial states-- in caps-- "WE ARE DETERMINED THAT BEFORE THE SUN SETS ON THIS TERRIBLE STRUGGLE OUR FLAG WILL BE RECOGNIZED THROUGHOUT THE WORLD AS A SYMBOL OF FREEDOM ON THE ONE HAND AND OF OVERWHELMING FORCE ON THE OTHER."

This is why these men and women died in this "terrible" war? To show the entire world that our flag represents the strange bedfellows of freedom and overwhelming military power? I felt sadness and I admit some anger at the smallness of men that cause them to resort to war. These memorials honor the dead, and by design make no attempt to question whether the deaths were actually necessary. But as I walked past the Vietnam Veteran Memorial, and through the graves at Arlington, and tried to count the brass stars at the WWII memorial, I kept thinking to myself, "If conflicts someday can be transformed, and war can be shown for what it is-- an unnecessary evil-- what will these places come to mean then?"

Anyway, it was great to see Renita and the kids, but painful to watch them drive off for Grand Rapids. As I write, I only have seven more days before I get home and rejoin them for the final push berfore we leave for Liberia. Even though they were just here, I miss them terribly, and know this separation has taken a toll on us all.

Hannah and Noah at the feet of Abe.

Hannah and Noah at the house of George.