Where are the monuments to peacemakers?

Mr. Rogers

The conversation about how we handle war monuments has been wonderfully diverse, interesting, and informative. It’s also raised a different type of question.

Why do we have so many monuments to war in the first place?

Where are the monuments to the peacemakers and the community builders who have shown us the way and pulled us together? Why do we have so many statues of generals in such prominent places, and so few remembering the many healers, teachers, and leaders among us?

Why are we so enamored of war?

I drove through a small town in southern Ohio this spring and was struck by their downtown square. The town is a quaint place. Old storefronts dot the square. In the center is a cannon — a war monument and a plaque with the names of residents who have died in wars.

And that’s all.

Enamored of war

I was left wondering: Why isn’t there a statue of the person who founded the town? Or something dedicated to the person who started the first school so children could learn about their world?

Perhaps the town could erect a statue of the town’s first doctor, the one who made house calls for sick children in the middle of the night and who delivered many of the early settlers into the world. Or maybe a reminder of a wise and compassionate leader who got the town through a time of division and showed everyone that there are ways to settle differences other than conflict.

It would be nice to see more tributes to those who remind us that we can get along if we really try. Sure, there are a few reminders of peacemakers in various places, but they’re far outnumbered by those dedicated to fighting. We’re far more interested in monuments to those who have waged and have been killed in wars.

Why is that?

This isn’t confined to small towns, of course. Great cities have even bigger and more expensive monuments to wars. Streets are named for leaders of war. Those who fought in wars are honored in various ways. There are parades for warriors, but not for peacemakers.

What about those who work to save lives by preventing conflict and war?

More than the opposite of war

There’s a statue of Mr. Rogers along the river in downtown Pittsburgh, right across from where Fort Pitt stood. I’m struck by the proximity — one place recalls war, the other remembers a spokesman for peace and love.

“Peace means far more than the opposite of war,” Fred Rogers once said.

And he’s right. Peace is a willingness to do the hard work to change attitudes and show people that we can get along.

A starting point is recognizing the truth that war is never noble or courageous. Noble and courageous acts occur during war, but war itself is always the ultimate human failure and must never be portrayed as anything else. War is the expression of our worst impulses — killing and maiming one another while destroying the many good things we’ve built together.

Put peacemakers on pedastals

War monuments ought to reflect that innate truth. We must never glorify war. Monuments must never romanticize it or make it seem like a desirable solution — it never is.

We must never put war on a pedestal.

So long as we worship war, we’ll never have peace. Peace can never come at the end of a sword or a cannon or a rifle or a rocket launcher. That kind of “peace” is illusory and temporary.

And perhaps part of changing that cycle is paying attention to what we honor with our monuments, the ones that define us and direct us.

We should make more of an effort to honor the people who work for peace and build communities. If we’re going to erect statues, let them honor those who bring us inspiration, healing, and wisdom. Let’s recognize those who show us how to wage peace in everyday ways.

Let’s put them on our pedestals instead.

More courageous than war

Lottery

During the early ‘70s, there was a must-see show for anyone with a son of legal age. The Vietnam war draft lottery was conducted on television.

By the time I approached draft age, the war had reached its tipping point but more soldiers were still needed. So men in suits would load capsules containing the days of the year into a large, clear drum. They’d spin it and pull out a date. If your birthday was the next one chosen, you were next in line to be inducted.

That’s how the draft order was determined: A bingo version of Russian roulette. And the privileged were given opt-out provisions, including college deferments and assignments to branches of the military away from combat.

The poor were sent to fight on behalf of the privileged. Those who had the least were forced to make the biggest sacrifice.

My dad was a wounded Korean war veteran and would watch the draft show with me. He stunned me one time by saying, totally out of the blue, that he’d support me if I chose to protest the war. He had no stomach for what dishonest politicians were doing with the war, how so many human lives were being wasted on both sides.

Also, he didn’t want his son to experience the horrors that he’d experienced, the ones that left him fighting his own demons for the rest of his life.

We forget about that part – the unthinkable, unspeakable things that happen during war and leave everyone associated with it wounded in some ways. Things so awful that those who survive them never speak of them. The cost that is never fully paid.

Never courageous or heroic

We honor the victims of our many wars, but we should never honor war itself. Courageous and heroic things happen during war, but war itself is never courageous or heroic. And that’s an important distinction we need to remember.

War is always the ultimate human failure — politically, religiously, morally, culturally, collectively, individually. It’s the final step in a long sequence of fearful attitudes, ugly words and selfish choices. War doesn’t just happen — we bring it on through our many choices over time.

And when our many selfish and inhumane decisions have intensified the fear and hatred, we head off to war thinking that killing will solve everything. But it never does. One war begets the next.

Ultimately, war is a repudiation of our shared humanity, a rejection of our greatest gift. The creator gives us life and the responsibility to nurture it – all of life, all of the time. War is our way of telling the creator: We refuse.

War is always a choice, never an inevitability.

So is peace. It’s always an option, but it never just happens. We have to co-create it.

Always a choice

It starts with actually listening to those whom we consider an enemy. Getting to know them. Giving them the same respect and value that we give ourselves. Recognizing our shared humanity.

Waging peace means finding creative ways to bridge our differences. It means putting our hubris and our selfishness aside and instead paying attention to how our attitudes and our words and our choices affect others – other people, other cultures, other nations.

Waging peace means saying emphatically and repeatedly: We can do better than this. We must do better. The horror of war must never be considered an inevitable outcome — it never is.

So while we honor and support those like my father who sacrificed so much in the horrific conditions of war, we must also honor and support those who are trying to wage peace.

Waging peace takes a lot of courage and a lot of sacrifice. But it’s the peacemakers who are called blessed, not the war makers. Making peace is the most noble and heroic and blessed thing that we can do.

Far more heroic than war.