“We are, meanwhile, going to erect befitting memorial tombs with beautiful flowers on them for our fallen soldiers. And inscribe their names on their tombstones in letters of gold, with our national flag flying overhead. For they did not die in vain. They fought and died for the empire. And we hope that many more will volunteer to fight and die for our Great Fatherland. May God bless the Empire!”
That was not the voice of the president of the United States, addressing fellow Americans on Memorial Day. Rather, it was the speech of Sunrise and Sunset, two kings who had led expeditionary forces throughout the earth in a vain search for Inferno, the terrorist. They had returned home without their soldiers, and had to explain to their countrymen and women why it was necessary for the soldiers to die. The book’s title from which the quotation was taken is my controversial work, CHASING SHADOWS! : A Dream.
According to Jonathan Glover in his book, Humanity—A Moral History of the Twentieth Century, “Death in twentieth-century war has been on a scale which is hard to grasp. . . . But, if these deaths had been spread evenly over a period, war would have killed around 2,500 people every day. That is over 100 people an hour, around the clock, for ninety years.” Hardly something to cheer about. People are either being slaughtered in political, racial, or religious wars. And members of the armed forces are dying in large numbers.
It is for this reason that nations all over the word have set aside a date to remember its fallen soldiers. Americans have two—the Memorial Day, which is marked on the last Monday of May, and Remembrance Sunday or Veterans Day celebrated on November 11. On these occasions, seasoned speech writers ensconced in the serenity of well guarded offices, craft Demosthenian and Ciceronian speeches and hand them over to draft dodging heads of states, who intone the virtues of sacrifice and the reward of patriotism in the mellifluous voice of angels.
There will be somber religious services in churches on Memorial Day in the United States. The pastors will specifically petition God to accept the ‘souls’ of the departed soldiers and give them special seats in heaven; wives would weep over their dead husbands; tombs of the ‘gallant’ heroes would be whitewashed and beautiful flowers would be laid on them; war veterans who had been forgotten would instantly be remembered; there would be reports of sighted soldiers in far away lands who had been missing in action; and most important—there would be a one minute silence in memory of the dead.
This year’s Memorial Day promises to be interesting. Because one presidential candidate is a decorated war veteran while the other is said to have played safe. But they are both honorable men. One thing which men of honor do on Memorial days is to recount their daring escapades in war. One presidential candidate may script the appearance of the man he saved from drowning in a river during the war in Vietnam. I don’t know what the other would do. However, he too, is an honorable man. But what happens after the Memorial Day?
The high point of presidents’ speeches on Memorial days is usually a determination to make America and the world safer as a tribute to the fallen soldiers. But that statement has been made over and over again. It was made four months before 9/11. Yet peace continues to elude America and the world.
As regards this, French playwright Moliere said: “Of all follies there is none greater than wanting to make the world a better place.” Was he right? Let UN scribe Kofi Annan answer. “I think the most frustrating part is that we all know what’s wrong and what needs to be done, but we often can’t act upon it,” he says. That is an admission of failure supreme. The secretary-general and Bill Clinton for example, saw the impending genocide in Rwanda. (80,000 slaughtered in 100 days—worse than what Adolph Hitler did to the Jews.) Yet they refused to act. (I have said elsewhere that that world body should be scrapped.)
But is the past any guide? According to William Shakespeare, “What is past is prologue.” The cause of past world pogrom should have provided an insight to our leaders not to repeat history. However, it is not so. Kofi Annan again agrees: “At times, when incredible things are happening and we want to awaken the conscience of the world, no one wants to move because of bad experiences in the past.” See what’s happening in Iraq now. See what Israel is doing to Hamas’ leaders in Palestine—murder in broad daylight. Yet the hands of the members of the world body are tied. One authority said that history is a tale of unfulfilled expectations and failed dreams. This is because we are searching for peace with the wrong tools.
When the two kings quoted earlier in CHASING SHADOWS! did not see Inferno, the terrorist, they decided to shoot and bomb his spirit parents: Hatred, Oppression, Frustration, Injustice, Mistrust, Fear, and Enmity. But these spirits are immune to the guns and bombs of these men. The assault fails and Inferno is free to set the world on fire. The book is therefore a pure allegory alluding to the ineffectual results of violence to thwart violence.
If we do not eradicate these monsters that breed war and terror, the killings would continue, and the veterans would have fought and died in vain. And Memorial days would continue to come and go. Presidents would give Demosthenian and Ciceronian speeches and exit. But death and gravedom—the ultimate winners—would forever dog our heels, the heels of our wives, and that of our children.
ARTHUR ‘ZULU is an editor, book reviewer, and published author.
BOOKS PUBLISHED BY THE AUTHOR
CHASING SHADOWS!: A Dream
HOW TO WRITE A BEST-SELLER
About the Author
Arthur Zulu is an editor, book reviewer, and published author.