Devotion, be it spiritual or martial, readily blends into one amorphous emotional goo, a loose amalgam of poorly delineated sensations to which we feel an obligation to respond. A line of anonymous people stood in the cool darkness, tiny flames licking and writhing within handheld lanterns.
My view of this ceremony was slightly orthogonal to the folks with whom I talked, as we shuffled around, shielding our uncertain and feeble commemoration from the swirling indifferent breeze. Passing motorists waved in solidarity, thanks in part to the earnest souls with their candles, partly due to the hand-drawn signs which explained what we were doing there. I tend to come down on one side or the other of any primum motile, but for one night only, I was actually acting out of a general sense of futility. For centuries, we had cultivated a decidedly non-militaristic stance: for weeks, we had kept an eye on the count of soldiers killed, intending this candlelight vigil to acknowledge their sacrifice, once their number reached 2,000.
I have no regrets about the memorial nature of the act, itself, but neither do I think that it will dissuade anyone from putting themselves in harms way. It just strikes me as an oxymoron, a festive orgy in the name of upholding virginity. Like sex, war typically involves more than one consensual partner, and if we offer no real love of war, we are equally diluted in our protestations against military acts. What message is sent if we say, "war is the wrong choice", then aggrandize the honor and valor of the combatants as people? Please do not read any irony or sarcasm into this line of questioning- in our search for purpose as individuals, killing our fellow man may be a plausible activity, especially if people maintain a schizophrenic system of punishments and rewards for its participants. Memorial day crystallizes this ironic behaviour, but during any season of conflict like the one we're in now, each day brings new opportunities to exalt armed conflict, despite any professed aversions to war as a solution to things.
It seems to me that war will always be an option, if not a political preference, so long as we fail to honor veterans by failing to grasp its essential futility, by seeking recruits or conscripts rather than less sanguinary forms of political expression or national will. We involve ourselves militarily, then enshrine the fact through memorial statements about the dead or wounded. Something's lost in the process, for the living. We confer honors to survivors, and try to acknowledge their personal sacrifices. But they fail to demand a reckoning, and future generations are left with the misapprehension that a special wisdom will prevent subsequent escalations from exacting a pointless toll in blood. Our real attempts to acknowledge the humanity sacrificed (if it's even possible to suspend it, for a few tours of duty) are seen as overt approval of the process, instead of expressions of personal compassion.
Surprisingly, most of our makeshift lamps remained lit for the whole hour or so of the vigil, even with the shifting winds. The vigil itself was a thing of beauty, neither a mockery of the sacrifices, nor identifiable as either a protest against, or affirmation of political support for the war. I suppose that passers-by could apply whatever cause they liked, as they drove by in the darkness. The Marines might say, "Kill 'em all, and let God sort it out...", but our motto is more like, "Baffle 'em all, while God's sorting it out."