Something came to me as I walked past the church of epiphany in Washington D.C. I had just viewed numerous monuments designed to memorialize our legions of war wounded, war dead and those that served. At the American History museum our war making past and present is codified as “The Price of Freedom”. A quarter of one whole floor is dedicated to making the case that all American wars, past and present, have been a necessity to preserve this great nation of ours.
There are a lot of monuments in D.C. to war. There are war memorials specific to the military branches. There are statues of tired soldiers, flaming swords and waves and dolphins and fountains and granite obelisks and walls with tens of thousands of names of U.S. military killed. There are salutes to those that served, and those that were injured and those that died, and those that loaded the bombs or dropped them, and those that traipsed through the snow or jungle being killed and maimed while killing people that were defending their homeland against us. We were right and they were wrong, the price of freedom. These memorials are flooded with men and women, older mostly, proudly wearing their veteran baseball caps. Never mind the millions of people whose lives we disrupted.
What I saw again and again at each memorial was testimony to failed leadership. Monumental failures of leadership and the resulting millions dead or wounded made me think that if we razed all the memorials and started again with a clean slate we might have a chance of breaking this propensity for war. What I saw was war memorials that have morphed from places that showed respect for the dead, to places were we can be proud of the destruction we heap on others, the price of freedom. No mention of the people that have felt the blade of our terrible swift American sword.
My epiphany is that it’s time to junk all the war memorials across this great land. There can be no argument that if our leadership had been better we could have avoided most if not all the dead and wounded, the immeasurable expense, and suffering we left behind and the violence brought home to our families. Why would we want so many memorials to manifest failure? All we really need is the reflecting pool, where we can consider the consequences of our actions and a path forward where good leadership steers us clear of war, rather than toward it.
My thoughts were later reinforced with the writings of 2 of our wise men on display. At the Dupont Circle, a quote from Walt Whitman about the suffering he had witnessed on both sides of the Civil War:
“Thus in silence in dreams’ projections,
returning, resuming, I thread my way through the hospitals;
The hurt and wounded I pacify with soothing hand,
I sit by the restless all the dark night – some are so young;
Some suffer so much – I recall the experience sweet and sad…”
At the George Washington Masonic temple our first President is quoted as saying “Let Prejudices and local interests yield to reason. Let us look to our national character and to things beyond the present period”.
Another thought came to me at the church of Epiphany. Where have all the great men gone?