Unpopular Options: Being a Pacifist on Memorial Day

Monday, May 30, 2016

I became a pacifist the day my daughter died. 


This isn't a political post, and it's not meant to disparage anyone whose family may be currently serving, or who has lost a loved one in armed conflict. We have both current and past military members, in addition to war dead -- who are still mourned every day -- in our own family.

This also isn't an anti-war screed. My feelings about my country's history of conflict is deeply nuanced, but even I comprehend the need for armed intervention in some situations. Contrary to popular belief, pacifism includes a wide range of belief about warfare. You can object to war in most cases, yet still believe a nation has a natural right to protect itself. 

But I digress.

This is about loss, the after affects of grieving your child, and how that experience can change your worldview in a split second.

I became a pacifist the day my daughter died. I was never a war hawk before this event, but the fall-out from her death left me with stronger feelings about casualties of war.

Today I've watched a number of videos honoring the sacrifices of our armed service members.... I think about all of the far-off places our young men and women have died, and it makes me weak. Seeing their faces, I can imagine too well the pain their death caused their mothers. They are all devastatingly gorgeous, of course. I'm sure they were good children, who were necessary to the inner workings of their family life and community. I'm sure their households are less joyful because of their absence. I'm also sure their mothers don't recall their boys just as the valiant young men they became, but as little boys jumping in puddles, the infant they held in the hospital, and the baby they felt moving in their body during pregnancy. I'm sure they don't just see their resilient, proud daughters, they see girls in christening dresses, and curly-headed toddlers handing them bouquets of dandelions and clomping around in their high heels.



I would never want to be responsible for another mother feeling the emptiness I felt after my Beatrix died. The emptiness I imagine these mothers felt when they learned of their child's death so far away, and so alone. Anecdotal stories tell us that soldiers most often call out for their mothers when dying. Tragically, mother and child are always intimately linked in a way no other pairing will ever be, in both birth and death.

If there is one thing I've learned about child loss, it's the universal nature of it. Meeting another loss mom is like finding an old friend. We each know what the other is thinking -- what she's really thinking -- no matter what the demographic. I know there's an electricity which runs along the skin of her arms when she thinks of holding her dead child. I know people have said awful things to her, inadvertently implying she were responsible for her child's death. I know she still feels phantom kicks, a tactile memory of a time when she carried her precious baby in her womb.

There is a language spoken between mothers who have lost children, and an expectation of sacredness which crosses all political, religious, social, and ethnic boundaries. One part of this language speaks to the fierce protectiveness we have over one another's children. In turn, it assumes that we would never willingly cause another woman to fee the terrible grief we experience.

In that spirit, I could never raise my hand against another human being, because all human beings have mothers. I don't know their story, and I understand my "enemy's" mother may be encouraging him/her to harm me. I must assume, however, that each and every mother would choose to keep their child alive and well with them, and I must behave accordingly. That it is a rare mother who sends her child to war, to kill strangers. And in that assumption I know one thing: I do not want to be a killer of other women's children.

I see the film reels of soldiers landing on Omaha Beach, and while our nation communally grieves the soldiers who died, I also have a deeper empathy for the countless parents who would never hold their sweet boys again. I see the dead and don't just think hero. I think about the time between the death and notification. The days in which a mother felt her son alive and safe, when he was already gone. I think about a knock on the door, and a woman with weak knees sinking to the ground. And because of this universal baby-loss language... I can hear my own voice in her keening.

I can not be responsible for this.

Expressing any type of pacifist leanings on a holiday to honor war heroes, dead or alive, is seen as "unpatriotic". We choose to express our feelings at the risk of seeming callous and dishonoring those who died. But in order to clarify to our children why we do not want to send them into war, we must say something. "When?", is the question. "Not today", always the answer.....So today stretches into all the today's of the future, until we realize there's never a "good" time to express this sentiment.

Sadly, until more mothers -- on all sides of each conflict -- speak openly about their unwillingness to send their sons into warfare, and their unwillingness to assume the loss of their child as collateral damage, there will continue to be an endless number of fallen children to be memorialized.


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