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  • Writer's pictureThe Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples

Memorial Day 2023 | May 28, 2023 by Rev. Dr. Dorsey Blake

And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

- Isaiah 2:4, King James Translation

Dr. Kathleen Barry begins her excellent book, Unmaking War Remaking Men, with a heart-rending story. The story is about a father who, watching his son drown in ocean waters, dives into the water, rescuing his son by heaving him over the mighty waves to safety. In the process, the father is sucked up, slammed onto the ocean floor, and then spewed out to the sea waters where rescuers in a helicopter recovered his body. She shares that others at the beach that day could not go back to their activities. Although they did not know the man, their hearts were full of grief. Separate from each other there was shared grief for the death of the stranger.

Dr. Barry looks at the family who before the tragedy had no idea that the loss of a husband, a father, would be ravished with the pain of loss. She raises the essential question of how life could go on normally for them. “Or for us?”

Barry queries:

What did it mean to those people who watched the boy fighting for his life, saw his father rescue him, then saw that man die? They were strangers whose lives were altered, whose tears and sadness were immediate. Shaken, I was drawn into their implicit unity, a force that seemed to hold this random array of people together. What produced this palpable shared grief that seemed to unite people who did not know each other, did not speak with each other?

She shared that it is shared human consciousness.

. . . In moments like these, we rediscover the spirit that fires our humanity. We find beneath all of the ideology, politics, myths, and beliefs that parcel us into different groups, beyond our separate loyalties to our cultures, religions, ethnicities, or races we humans deeply value our own and each other’s lives. Unless one’s humanity has been distorted or perverted, the most normal reaction when strangers witness another’s loss of life is to feel that grief for a life just lost – even the life of a stranger.

It is this loss that I feel on Memorial Day, not just Memorial Day, but especially Memorial Day. For it is a day set aside to grieve for those American lives extinguished by war, over 1.2 million. That is comparable to the entire populations of San Francisco and Oakland combined. I don’t have to have known them personally. In a sense they are strangers. In a larger sense, they are kin. For we are all kin. Where is the human consciousness to which Barry referred? Does it not call us “to study war no more, to lay down our swords and shields, to disarm?”

War does not solve anything. What will result from the ending of Russia’s war against Ukraine, freedom, stability, victory? Just look at the devastated infrastructure, how is that to be repaired? How is the trauma on both sides to be addressed?

(click link to view)

Several weeks ago, while channel chasing, I watched the last part of the 1951 film, The Day the Earth Stood Still. The movie makes poignant points about the earth, its disorder, wars, inability to work together, and its possible doom.

A spaceship lands in Washington, D.C., with passengers Klaatu and his robot, Gort. Klaatu, played by Michael Rennie, has a message for the governments of the earth. When Klaatu steps out of the spaceship to greet those gathered, he is shot by a guard who thinks the object that Klaatu holds in his hand is a weapon. Instead, it was a gift for the President. Klaatu asks the Secretary to the President to call all the nations together so that he may share more specifically his message as an emissary from another planet. He is told that such a gathering would be impossible. Some countries refuse to sit in a room with certain others. This is the reality even though there is the United Nations, which does not include all nations. Klaatu demands to speak to all the nations at once. So, that the nations hear the same message at the same time. Eliminating confusion. There is no war on the planet where Klaatu lives.

Klaatu is led to a scientist, Professor Barnhardt, played by Sam Jaffee, who is not in his office when Klaatu arrives. Klaatu adds a mathematical calculation to what Professor Barnhardt has written on the board and leaves his calling card. When Barnhardt returns to his office, he sees the equation and knows that this is a serious matter, and contacts Klaatu. The title, The Day the Earth Stood Still, results from the fact that Professor Barnhardt explains that Klaatu must do something dramatic for the people (leaders) to understand the urgency of meeting with Klaatu. At noon one day, Klaatu caused everything to stop. There was no electricity. The only things not affected were emergency services.

In the end, Klaatu was shot again. Gort finds him and takes him to the space station where he is brought back to life. The person with whom he has been staying, played by Patricia Neal, is also in the spaceship after fainting while giving the message to Gort. She asks:

He has the power of life and death? No. That power is reserved to the Almighty spirit. This technique, in some cases... can restore life for a limited period. But... how long? You mean how long will I live? That, no one can tell. Under the circumstances... the army people have asked us to leave... and since their concern is for our safety... I can do nothing but suggest that we comply. I am leaving soon. And you will forgive me if I speak bluntly. The universe grows smaller every day... and the threat of aggression by any group anywhere... can no longer be tolerated. There must be security for all... or no one is secure. Now, this does not mean

giving up any freedom...

except the freedom to act irresponsibly. Your ancestors knew this... when they made laws to govern themselves... and hired policemen to enforce them. We of the other planets have long accepted this principle. We have an organization... for the mutual protection of all planets... and for the complete elimination of aggression. The test of any such higher authority... is, of course, the police force that supports it. For our policemen, we created a race of robots. Their function is to patrol the planets... in spaceships like this one... and preserve the peace. In matters of aggression... we have given them absolute power over us. This power cannot be revoked. At the first sign of violence... they act automatically against the aggressor. The penalty for provoking their action... is too terrible to risk. The result is we live in peace... without arms or armies... secure in the knowledge... that we are free from aggression and war – free to pursue more profitable enterprises. We do not pretend to have achieved perfection... but we do have a system, and it works. I came here to give you these facts. It is no concern of ours how you run your own planet. But if you threaten to extend your violence... this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned-out cinder. Your choice is simple. Join us and live in peace... or pursue your present course and face obliteration. We shall be waiting for your answer. The decision rests with you.

Klaatu is challenging the nations of the world. “You” means each of us as individuals in addition to the nations. We say we live in a democracy, a nation where the people rule. So, are all the dead for whom we mourn on Memorial Day the responsibility of the people of this nation? What role do we play in the killings and destruction?

I feel that we must be audacious enough to believe that there can be, because there must be a world without war.

Dr. Barry reminds us . . . as all wars do, shattered the shared human consciousness that draws people together to save human life, a consciousness that was so evident when that man drowned at the beach. They beg the question: why do wars persist in the face of our human urge to save and protect human life?

Fellowship Church community member, David Hartsough, and David Swanson founded World Beyond War in 2014 with the intention to find a way to transition to a global security system that is supported by international law, diplomacy, collaboration, and human rights. I believe Klaatu would approve. Their work demonstrates to people “that wars should be abolished, but also that they actually can be” through a variety of nonviolent activism that moves the world in the direction of ending all war.

“Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind.”

President John F. Kennedy

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