On War Memorials

I received an email that contained a report concerning the recent desecration of war memorials and monuments across this country. Seeking additional information, I Googled using the keywords “war memorials desecrated” and was presented more than 143,000 URLs. From a cursory reading at a few of the Web pages, I learned that tagging, breaking and urinating are common methods of desecrating monuments to fallen warriors. I should like to share a few thoughts with you.

Yes, I was displeased to learn that activists had tagged or otherwise 'desecrated' memorials honoring those who died in war. What most bothered me was that these irresponsible law breakers had vandalized public property. These monuments were painted or sculpted or otherwise created by people of many cultures and nationalities. Their work, in most cases I imagine, was paid for either with government funding or private subscription. In my mind, these damaged works of art belonged to all the peoples of America and those of other nations who have benefited by American involvement in wars that liberated them from oppressors.

In many cases, relatives of those whose deaths are commemorated by those monuments still live, as do many former servicemen and women who stood along side the fallen warriors. I cannot imagine what went on in the minds of these survivors when they learned of or saw the damage done to what often were the only gravestones raised for their loved and beloved whose remains lie beneath the seas or shredded into alien earth.

What reasonable person would desecrate the grave marker of a mother's child who died on foreign soil? What greater disrespect for a parent's son or daughter, someone's husband or wife, a child's parent than to paint vicious slogans on their gravestones? Or burn our nation's flag in the shadow of such a monument?

Who would do such a thing and then be proud of what he did? I do not doubt that many, if not most, of the vandals were children of privilege; children raised in comfortable homes by loving but disinterested parents who made little effort to watch over and nurture their children's development. Often, in order to create that comfortable home life, both parents must work, sometimes at more than one job. They have social 'obligations' and jealously safeguard a 'little time for themselves' out of each day.

The children of privilege seem mostly to raise themselves. Unlike Topsy, who “just growed,” these children have a multitude of tutors to help them shape their lives. They attend schools where they are taught that they should report parents who abuse them by such draconian means as taking away their cell phones for a few days, denying them access to Internet chat rooms, not allowing them to socialize with their peers in parties and activities that do not meet parental standards of what is appropriate for their children. They watch sex and violence by disrespectful and irresponsible characters in movies, on TV and in DVDs. If they go to church at all, it seems unlikely that they will hear much from their pastor/priest/preacher having to do with the realities of Hell, condemnation and the need for Christ. More likely than not, they will sing a few choruses of some old hymn or be entertained by what today is called “Christian music.” After the singing and the hand clapping, they likely will hear about their church's need for money and the God-ordained requirement to deliver a tithe to the church. When they leave church, at best, they will come out no better off than when they entered. At worst, they will be wondering if there really is a God and if there is why does He demands so much of us and give nothing in return?

The children of privilege have no respect for themselves. How can they be expected to have any respect for others? When the children of privilege don't get their way, they lash out in anger and scream that their civil rights are being violated. When they encounter others who hold to different social values, they are likely to ignore them, denigrate them or try to destroy them. For the children of privilege, only their way is the right way; all other ways are socially and criminally wrong. They must be overcome.

Who age the children of privilege? They are the scions of the mega rich. They are the sons and daughters of the housing projects. They are the children of hardworking middle class working families. Their parents work in offices, shops, factories and farms. The children of privilege are not an economic class. They are the products of upbringing by parents who find no time, for a variety of reasons, to devote to raising a child well.

Solomon counseled:

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.-- Proverbs 22:6

Children of privilege are, in my opinion, children of neglect. They are victims of a social system that not only permits but actually encourages free expression of feelings. They are products of a society in which exercising one's 'civil rights' and being instantly gratified are the only guides for living.

They are victims, but they also are responsible for their conduct that violates the rights of others to be secure in the free exercise of their civil rights and needs gratification. The children of privilege often are guilty of violating the civil and criminal laws of society and the laws of conscience. When they are found culpable of willfully flying in the face of what is considered responsible social conduct, they should be admonished. If their violations are considered to be major, then they should be punished.

When children of privilege are called before authorities to answer for their misconduct, it is not unlikely that their parents and peers will raise an public outcry. “How can you bring yourselves to punish my child?,” they ask. They will argue vehemently that what their child did was only a childish prank, or that their child did not intend to injure or kill a person, or that their child would never take drugs. Usually, I suspect, they are wrong because they have such little meaningful contact with their children that they cannot possibly know what their children do or are capable of doing.

All too often, the very social order that we created to protect our rights and us is the agency that nurtures the development of children of privilege. In my local school district, children are gathered together on the first day of school each year to be apprised of the rules and regulations that are intended to govern their behavior within the school system. Among the things they are taught is how to deal with overly strict or abusive parents. They are taught that excessively denying a child its 'right' to have or use a cell phone or TV privileges may be child abuse. They are given telephone numbers to call if their parents intrude excessively, in the child's opinion, in the lives of their children. On the other side of the coin, a parent could be sent to jail for as long as six months if a child skips school excessively. What is the message that such instruction is sending to children?

What about the monuments that have been and are being desecrated by anti-war hoodlums? It bothers me that this is happening, but no more than it would bother me to learn that someone had damaged a painting by Renoir or a statue by Rodin. These monuments are the work or artists, and should be respected. They are owned by the people of America and should be respected. However, they are but things.

I look at one of this nation's best known monuments to valor, that mission fortress known to the world as The Alamo, and I am reminded of the heroism of those 183 men who stood firm and manned the fort in what they knew would be a desperate battle they could not survive. I think of the men and their valor, but I don't think much about the battleground upon which they bled out their lives. I did not think at all about rock star Ozzie Osborne being banned from performing in San Antonio, the Alamo City, for years as a consequence of having urinated on the walls of the Alamo.

When I see images of the Marine Corps War Memorial at Arlington, I think about the Marines who fought the desperate battle at Iwo Jima and mourn the 7000 who died in the fighting. I do not think of that miserable little volcanic pile of sand.

When the Traveling Wall that is the Vietnam War Memorial comes to town, I am reminded of all those more than 58,000 American fighting men and women who died in that ten year exercise in futility. I never think of the stench or rain or heat of that dreadful peninsula.

When I look at an equestrian statue that memorializes John Bell Hood and his Texans, I think of the incredible bravery of his men who charged again and again up the hill we know as Little Round Top and the incredible bravery of the Union soldiers who held their ground in the face of so many determined attacks. But I never think of that little hill, nor even of the battle fought there.

My point? Monuments to our dead, whether killed in war or died in their own beds, are not bronze statutes or hunks of carved stone. Those monuments that we cherish are in our hearts, or should be. The stone and bronze are cold to the touch. The memories of loved ones that we hold dear are warm. It often is necessary to travel great distances to see the great public monuments to fallen warriors. We need only to reflect in our hearts and the monuments to our departed loved ones are with us.

I won't cry over tagged statues or burnt flags. These are only things. I do cry sometimes when I reflect on the monuments in my heart.

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