Memorial Day as a Pacifist

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As a pacifist, I’ve always had an awkward relationship with holidays that celebrate war and violence. It’s not something I believe is necessarily or beneficial for anyone, and celebrating it as a national holiday sits poorly with me. It wasn’t until I saw this image that my friend posted that Memorial Day really hit me. While other days are about those who served (and while I’m proud of them for standing up for what they personally believe, I cannot condone their actions), this one day is about those who fell. This day is about those who fell for the lie that fighting brings freedom and paid the ultimate sacrifice for it. And it breaks my heart.

I can’t but mourn the loss of thousands (both U.S. Citizens and those whom our armies were combatting) when war is far from necessary. As I sit on my patio, enjoying an iced coffee, you’re prolly calling me a privileged millennial who is taking his freedom for granted. But do you know who else has freedom? The 14 countries who rank higher than us on the personal freedom index.[1]!/ranking One of whom is known for staying out of war. Remember Switzerland? They haven’t engaged in a war since 1947. [2] And they have more personal freedom than the U.S. who spends 111 times more on our military than the country with the most freedom in the world. Do you know who that is? Canada.

So please, don’t try to tell us pacifists that these wars are necessary to protect our freedom. Because they aren’t. We don’t have the most freedom, but we do spend, by far, the most on war. We are also 33rd in the world on our own security here at home. Because that is a separate metric in the ranking, it doesn’t influence the personal freedom index, but it should. If you aren’t even safe and secure in your own country, you’re far from free.

So, on this memorial day, my heart goes out to all those who lost their lives fighting to protect something that

  1. We don’t have in the capacity many believe we do
  2. Can be obtained without fighting

My heart goes out to the mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers who have to bury caskets, many times empty, because their children were convinced that war was the only answer. My heart goes out to everyone who believes that war is a necessity and can’t see how the senseless killing only leads to more. My heart breaks for the countless people who use this day solely as an excuse to get off work and go to the beach/have a cookout/get drunk. You’ve missed the point, my friends.

Whether you’re pro-war or a pacifist, this day is for mourning loss. It’s a day where we honor those who have died. And, if I’m being honest, it’s probably hardest on those who take a peaceful approach to the world. We don’t see these deaths as a necessary casualty of war in the honor of freedom. We see these deaths as reckless and unnecessary in a world that can’t look beyond violence to see a better way. And that hurts. These lives could have been spared. There is no necessary death. And memorial day reminds us the cost at which we go to war again and again. And what benefits do we even reap?


Here are some thoughts from my friend Rocky,

I tend to have mixed emotions and thoughts about Memorial Day.

On the one hand, I am an American, and so I feel for my country’s veterans. They have worked hard and sacrificed much in order for me to have the luxuries that I do. I know many veterans personally, and they are good people who have an admirable sense of honor and duty. They aren’t blood-thirsty jingoists. They long for peace, and they have struggled to provide a safe country for us citizens to live in. So, I think there would be something slightly arrogant in me if I were to lack any thankfulness for what our country’s veterans have done.

Just to be clear, I am thankful for our veterans and the sacrifices that they’ve made.

However, on the other hand, as a pacifist and an apolitical neo-Anabaptist, I am deeply troubled by the nationalistic context that led our brave veterans to kill and die. This weekend, many will go to visit the graves of soldiers who went off to fight and never came home. It breaks my heart to think of all the husbands and wives, all the sons and daughters, all the moms and dads who prayerfully waited at home for their loved one whom they’d never see again. So many tears, so many broken hearts and broken lives. And I cannot help but watch the somber, tear-streaked looks on people’s faces and ask, was this necessary? Was this worth it? Was this what my Lord would have wanted?

Sometimes I get into heated debates with people about the nature of war and peace. Often they will appeal to the sacrifices of dead soldiers to argue that there is a nobility in going to war. But, whenever they do this, I want to point to those same dead soldiers and say, “See? See what war gets you? Why are you defending our government’s wars when you can see clearly the inexcusable cost of them?”

Now, I don’t pretend that my particular form of pacifism has anything to do with the United States as a nation per se. Ours is a worldly country, and not to be equated with the kingdom of God. If an atheist, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, or pagan American wants to go fight in a war for America, that’s their prerogative. However, it is for my Christian brothers and sisters that I would take occasion to challenge this. Christ taught us to love our enemies, to love everyone unconditionally, even if it costs us, even if it gets us killed. There is no violence, no war on the lips of Jesus (and any attempt to demonstrate such from the Gospel texts is a bastardization of those passages).

So, yeah I have an aversion to war. And it is precisely because of this that I mourn our soldiers on Memorial Day, both those who never came home and those who came home to a thankless America. My heart goes out to them. They did what they thought was right, even if I don’t think it was. And so with a heavy heart, I pray Jesus’ prayer from the cross, “Forgive them, Father. They might not have realized what they were doing.”

grace and peace,

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