Must Receive Respect For Sacrifices
this calendar year of 2001 alone, our undergraduate institution
has chosen to ignore the two chief days of remembrance for the hardship
of warfare. Considering the posturing of Oberlin, from
person can change the world
to a series of morbidly
partisan displays of opposition to the USA and its military needs,
perhaps this should not be a surprise. Still, for a school claiming
to nurture both critical and compassionate tendencies, the double
failure on Memorial Day and Veterans Day this year should
bruise the sanctimony that has sustained Oberlin from Christian
missionary to secular missionary work.
Sure, Commencement trumps Memorial Day each and every May in Oberlin,
but would it have killed anyone to mention those Americans slain
in war? Our esteemed President Dye honored still-living students
who were bold enough to get arrested for challenging the School
of the Americas, but gave not one peep of typical humanitarian sympathy
for any citizen past who met death in combat. The veteran Marxist-Leninist
Steven Volk, presently heading the history department, treated the
ommencement audience to a cute reminiscence on community singing.
Neither of these venerable Baby Boomers, each a leftist and an accredited
historian, seized the opportunity to throw in some generation-late
protest about the Vietnam War, and all the Americans it was once
upon a time claimed had died needlessly there. Hey, it was only
Memorial Day, for crying out loud. They had diplomas to give out,
so why spoil the mood by admitting to the importance of the holiday.
The coincidence of the two days be damned! Better to save the remorse
until the next alarm of war might sound in America.
Surely in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks and the subsequent war
mobilization, the teach-ins and the vigils, the speak-outs and the
sing-alongs, someone on this blessed campus would have commemorated
Veterans Day. Aside from falling two months to the date after
Mohammad Attas aeronautical opening salvo in south Manhattan,
Nov. 11 marks the anniversary of the armistice that closed the First
World War. Consider the grand symbolism: the war of 1914-1918 had
turned its world upside down, leading to generations of soul-searching,
grief, vengefulness and criticism. Like a juggernaut, that conflict
had consumed the lives of conscripted infantry by the hundreds of
thousands before the tactical stalemate began to change even slightly;
the false promises of jingoism were broken for all but a few die-hards
and demagogues in the wake of World War I. All that, yes, and the
veterans of that calamity were still given a day of quiet, somber
honor, an implicit thanks and apology from the powers that be for
having played God so infamously. There is a touch of the tragic
even to things pro-military, and it was not only the Churchills
and Lincolns of history who recognized as much.
It is a rich subject of debate and inquiry, especially when approached
by a moral community that often represents itself as anti-war and
intellectually striving. Veterans Day is not an occasion for
pride in elite policy, but for dignity reclaimed for those who shouldered
enormous and frequently erroneous burdens.
What of our fair school? Nothing. Not one lousy concert in the Conservatory.
Not one bleeding notice in The Oberlin Review. No mentions on Oberlin
on-line. Special lectures? Nada. What about creative usurping of
Veterans Day as an occasion to protest war? Not even that
much. The complete lack of acknowledgment for the day, even in opposition,
speaks very poorly of Oberlins intelligence. While we prepare
in advance for the commemoration of AIDS, Veterans Day and
Memorial Day are demoted out of existence. Given this display of
disregard, who the hell should ever care what an Obie has to say
about war? If combatants are treated as fictional, superfluous or
simply beneath mention, then what can this college community hope
to ever say with any insight about fighting, dying, or negotiating?
All anti-war sentiment that shuns reference to the suffering of
the soldier becomes a limited exercise in moral self-congratulation
for the civilian protester at best. At worst, it is some bizarre
divorce from reality, thinking that one can change the world without
exhibiting any conscious understanding of its unsavory features.
For all one hears on this campus about acknowledgment of peoples
needs and the fight against ignorance, the non-recognition of Memorial
Day and Veterans Day reveals an unfortunate blind spot. Just
think: a handful of profiteering businesses, which make no claim
to important observations on combat, have shown a more sensitive
approach. War appears to be as old as mankind, but peace is a modern
invention, noted Sir Henry Maine in the nineteenth century. One
might add that the inventors will keep failing, refusing to go back
to the drawing board after making mistakes. If you seek their monument,
look around you.