Memorial Day is not actually a day to pray for US troops who died in action, but rather a day set aside by Congress to pray for peace. The 1950 Joint Resolution of Congress, which created Memorial Day, says, “Requesting the President to issue a proclamation designating May 30, Memorial Day, as a day for a Nation-wide prayer for peace.” (64 Stat.158). From Truthout.
I am about a kilometer from a Cemetery for German Soldiers here in Klaipeda. Klaipeda was once a German town, called Memel. For most of the twentieth century Lithuania faced invasion by either the Germans or the Soviets. When the Soviets finally occupied the country after the second world war they bulldozed the German cemetery. When the soviet tanks finally left the country, the Lithuanians reached an agreement with Germany to restore and maintain the cemetery.
Lithuania suffered from the Germans as well as from the Soviets. But they are willing to honor the German soldiers who died here. I see it as a measure of reconciliation. They are not honoring war, aggression, or occupation; but they are honoring the young men–and women–I saw a name Maria Rose, a “helper” from the time of the first world war–who died on their soil.
I’ve been reading epic poetry with my class. A lot of it is about war. But there is also a theme of reconciliation that runs through the old poems we are reading. At the end of the battle, those who survive finally have to sit down and negotiate a peace for what remains.
I have challenged my class to think about the hero of the future. The hero of the future–if there is to be a future–will be not a warrior but a peacemaker.