Sunday, August 31, 2014

Traveling Vietnam Memorial

This past week I was asked to be a chaplain for a couple of hours while the Traveling Vietnam Memorial came to Ludington. The Traveling Vietnam Memorial is 80% the size of the actual Vietnam Wall and occupied one city block in Ludington. It was my privilege to be there. I was also disturbed by a couple of things. Some were small trivial things. Others were not so small.

For instance, part of the memorial included a wall, describing those who lost their lives during World War II.

In talking about the United States, this board claimed that the United States' religion was Christianity.

This is, of course, not true. The United States was founded as a country that would not establish a State Church. Even though some of the authors of the Constitution were Christian, they agreed that to establish a State Religion would not be conducive to the freedom of its citizens. The statement that we are a "Christian Nation" is also a slap in the face to all other citizens who have a different faith than Christianity.

I know that many American Christians would love for the United States to be a Christian nation, but too many of them go about it by legislation rather than evangelism.

I also listened to a speaker, who seemed to justify the War in Vietnam, saying that they were protecting our freedom. In fact, the motto of the tour was "Freedom is never free."

I agree that freedom is not free. I believe that there are various ways of insuring that we maintain our freedom. I am more reticent using the military to do this. I am more doubtful, however, of the purpose of some of our military actions and how they protected our freedom.

This leaves our soldiers in the lurch. They are forced to enact the political will of government officials. Unfortunately, the soldiers were often the brunt of abuse from those citizens who disagreed with the government, especially during the Vietnam War. For our veterans who served in the Vietnam War, I have nothing but admiration for the suffering they went through. I am saddened by their loss of their friends, comrades, and loved ones.

My own problem comes when the deaths of the soldiers and the death of the citizens are justified as being in defense of our freedom. I do not see how killing people in Vietnam secured my freedom. Perhaps I am simplifying the issue. However, as I understand it, the United States was trying to prevent the spread of communism, which was seen as going against freedom. Hindsight has given us the wisdom that such systems collapse in on themselves. Even the communism of China is no longer communism. It's certainly dictatorial, but it's not the communism that Karl Marx envisioned.

What did those soldiers die for? They died for political decisions. They did not die in the defense of our freedom. I mourn their deaths. I mourn the suffering that our veterans have to go through with PTSD, loss of limbs, health, etc. I mourn that often they are suffering because of a lie. What is the lie? They died for our freedom.

Perhaps an even more pertinent question is this:  What did the Vietnamese and Cambodians die for when they were killed by American soldiers? Do we mourn their deaths? During the ceremony, a veteran yelled out, "58,286 names." How many Vietnamese and Cambodian names are there?

One ceremony that always chills me is the 21 Gun Salute. I am never prepared for it. It unnerves me. Last night, there was a 21 Gun Salute as part of the ceremony. That will always haunt me.

In thinking about this Memorial, I tried to come up with an appropriate selection from the Bible. I am reminded of Ecclesiastes 4:1-3:

When I next observed all the oppressions that take place under the sun, I saw the tears of the oppressed—and they have no one to comfort them. Their oppressors wield power—but they have no one to comfort them. So I declare that the dead, who have already died, are more fortunate than the living, who are still alive. But happier than both are those who have never existed, who haven’t witnessed the terrible things that happen under the sun.

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