As we prepare to celebrate this Memorial Day (May 25th, 2015), a day on which we remember and honor those who have died fighting in this nation’s wars, I find myself asking questions. These are not the usual how-to-spend-the-day-off questions, but questions that probe the full implications of such a celebration – questions that would reveal things about ourselves that we may not want to know or admit.
How many people should die for me, personally? Not for anyone else – just for me. How many people ought to sacrifice their lives to preserve my rights to life, to liberty, and to drive an SUV? Is my freedom worth over a million deaths, which by some estimates have resulted from our invasion of Iraq? Are the 6850 American lives lost in Iraq and Afghanistan an appropriate payment to guarantee my son’s college education? How many lives are my job worth? At the risk of being lurid, what if the bodies of those who died for me were piled up next to my front door? How large would the pile have to get before I would say, “Stop! What can I say, do, or give up to make it stop?” How many people ought to die for me, and how many would be too many?
Or, can I legitimately claim that such sacrifices are made, not for my own sake, but for those I love and care for? Can I gather my clan into a tight little circle, with everyone pointing to the person on their right and exclaiming, “It’s being done for them”? How small can the circle become before our self-interest becomes obvious? Or, can we play games with numbers? Is one death for the sake of a million acceptable? How about one death for the sake of a thousand, or a hundred, or ten?
If our nation’s leaders had built an altar on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and every day for the past fourteen years had sacrificed a willing victim to protect us from real and imagined threats, most people would be horrified. But many of those same people see little wrong with putting guns in the hands of those willing volunteers, putting uniforms on their backs, and sending them halfway around the world to die. Either way, they would be just as dead.
How many people do I think ought to die for me? There is only one number that is consistent with a civilized society and the demands of the Gospel, and that number is zero. What can I do? I can start by saying this to all who are connected to the brutality of war:
I object to people being killed for my benefit.
Please don’t die for me –
and please don’t make anyone else die for me, either
I do no want such a sacrifice to be made for my sake. If enough people said this, we could make the senseless brutality of war stop.
How many people do you think ought to die for you, and how many would be too many?