Three Memorials

Three Memorials

By Blaney Pridgen

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Something about war is romantic or seems so.  There’s the valor, the ultimately inexplicable twists of timing and maneuver, and even the sighs of those left behind to hear and retell the stories and to erect monuments.  But, then again, I have never been to war to swim and nearly drown in death and pain.  What do I know about it?  Romance is for the spectators in the nosebleed seats of history, and their blood is inconsequential.

We took our grandson, age 15, to Gettysburg, Antietam, and the D Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia.  Yes, there were whiffs of romance in the sacred imaginations of remembrance, but mostly just pain and death, death and pain.  I think he got both sides of the stories or at least I hope he did.  I always do, but what do I really know?  Images of the late evacuation of Afghanistan, the Ken Burn’s documentary on the Viet Nam misadventure, Eisenhower’s prescient warning about economic dependence upon the military industrial complex, the perfectly grim but blank faces of cold rain-soaked foot soldiers of the Korean War Memorial in Washington, and the loss of twenty-one young men to Bedford on D Day…not much romance in all of this.  Yes, something that must be remembered like the mass murder of Jews under a Nazi regime caught up in the uncritical hero worship and lies of a crazy narcissistic populist.  And then there’s the aggression against Ukraine, yet another idiocy of an evil empire.  In every serious history of every war, in after thought, Satan wore a thin disguise and too many seemingly sane people were fooled by it.  

Why is the romance of war so compelling?  Why does it keep slipping up on us?  This continually brings me back to the cynical generalization that “ain’t nobody no good no how,” and we better be careful of whom we idolize and what we want to romanticize about war.  In the end, there are only three things worth fighting for:  strict constitutional democracy, unfettered justice, and the protection of the weak and innocent.  But then again, are these three free of romance?  Probably not.  

Obviously, this trip led me to ruminations of romanticism and not just the literal history of these places.  We human beings do that, dress up the painful unavoidables with mythologies that please us.  We do that a lot with death and all the reasons we believe it is sometimes good to go and die for someone or something.  Then we build a marble and granite memorial about it.  Strange but true.