The greatest man I’ve ever known was a war hero. It was a part of who he was, but it could not come close to defining him. He was also a lawyer, (one of the best), a storyteller, an amazing husband and father and my grandfather. My granddad, in many ways, was the stereotypical patriarch. He loved to sit around and tell stories. He passed a love for storytelling on to the rest of my family. When we get together there is rarely the need for games or television. We tell stories. It is what Robinson’s do. It is our heritage. My granddad loved his country but he also just loved cultures. I know I inherited a love for experiencing different cultures from him. There is no man I have ever looked up to as much as my grandfather.
My grandfather also walked with a limp. He took a bullet in the knee from a sniper while getting his men to safety in one of the Pacific battles of World War Two. I have heard the story many times of him getting shot in the knee, as well as his subsequent time in the hospital and when he awoke to the beautiful sight of his big toe, letting him know his leg was not amputated. I have heard this story so many times that if I close my eyes I can picture the setting. I can picture the sniper in the trees, I can picture the bullet tearing into my granddad’s knee and I can picture my granddad being the last man to safety so as to ensure that his men were safe.
I loved that story as a child. Sometimes I would pretend I had not heard it, just to hear my Granddad tell it again. We all need heroes in our lives. My granddad was mine. However, recently I began thinking about the stories my granddad would not tell. As a child wrapped in the cultural ideal of good guys killing bad guys, there were several times I asked my granddad questions like, “how many bad guys did you kill?” or “tell me about when you shot the bad guys!” I remember vividly the look on his face when I would ask him about those things. Now, you need to know that my granddad would always maintain eye contact with me while he was telling stories. He knew that his facial expressions would pull you into his stories. But when I would ask him about killing “bad guys” he would break eye contact, stare off into the distance, and say something to the effect of, “I don’t talk about that.”
You see, there was something in my grandfather that knew that the worst thing he ever experienced was not being shot. The worst thing my grandfather had experienced was ending someone’s life at the end of his own gun. He never told me this obviously, but it can be inferred by the fact that a man who loved to tell stories, held back the stories that he knew would have been most interesting to his grandson.
My granddad knew I was wrong in how I felt about the glory of war. He was proud of the fact that he had saved lives. He was not proud of the fact that he had taken life.
War destroys lives. The evil hand of war reaches far beyond the battlefield, affecting soldiers who have gone home, as well as the families of those who have lived and died. When war happens, even the victors lose.
Today is Memorial Day. Today is the day we remember our soldiers who were lost on the battlefield. I have heard some Christians with a nonviolent stance like my own saying that they will not take part in Memorial Day festivities. I disagree with that sentiment. We should for sure remember every soldier lost in battle.
But our Memorial Day is too shortsighted. We must begin to move beyond remembering only our own people lost to the evils of war. We must think about the Iraqi child who became a victim of “collateral damage,” the Vietnamese child who was coerced into strapping a bomb to their chest, the fatherless Afghani teenager whose dad died fighting for the Taliban, the German soldier who was brainwashed into believing Hitler had the best interest of his country at heart and anyone else we may view as “enemy casualties.”
In Christ, there is no enemy other. Our culture divides everything along the lines of good guys and bad guys. But as followers of Jesus we must learn to look upon the enemy other and pray, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus beckons us to forgive. Our culture beckons us to remember “our boys” who died. There is nothing wrong with remembering our guys. Families of the fallen deserve that. The problem comes when we give more importance to our tragedies than we do the tragedies of families in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Germany, Japan etc.
This Memorial Day, remember the fallen soldiers you know. Remember the goodness in them. But also, my friends, remember that had they been born in a different place, they may have been the enemy soldier, and their death would have been no less tragic.
Never forget. Never forget the pain war causes. Always remember those we have lost to our violent ways. Always remember that every human on this planet is intrinsically tied together. When an Iraqi family loses a child, we lose a child.
Hold your children close on this Memorial Day, and remember the children affected by war all over the planet. Let this Memorial Day be one of sober remembrance instead of yet another celebration of our empire’s military might. Pray for peace my friends. Forgive, as we have been forgiven.
Happy Memorial Day.