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Guns and Religion in a Small Town on Memorial Day

An anti-war vet in Trumpland

Invited to remain standing for the Pledge of Allegiance, I did, of course, silent, my arms unpledgingly akimbo; but not the good citizens around me who earnestly recited these words by rote, and placed palms over hearts, or saluted, especially the lodge commanders ramrod straight whose squared fingers grazed the tips of their “piss cutters.” Their drill sergeants would have finally been proud of them. A man at a Hammond Organ struck up the national anthem, and I noticed not many folks were singing, likely having never fully committed Francis Scott Key’s lyrics, arcane, elegiac, to memory. I joined in for America the Beautiful, a tune that glides more smoothly off the lips. Then a reverend rose to pray, and did so for the next ten minutes.

Not a stem-winder by any means; the man was no orator. He’d clearly pre-set his marks, and chockablock sought to hit them all. I can track the gist of it from the hurried scribbles in my notebook, which from time to time drew a sidelong glance from my neighbor, quite inscrutable, but from a woman across the aisle a more openly curious look. The alertness of a neighborhood watcher; no interference implied. Meanwhile, the preacher gathered steam. He thanked his God for “giving us these extra days” that had been denied to the fallen who “did not turn, did not flinch” from their ultimate sacrifice. “When Americans go into battle,” he exclaimed, “they go to win for righteousness sake… to bring peace to those who are oppressed.”

“Might” was preferred, he emphasized, as the “implement of peace for all men of good will.” Even now “the God of peace and love” rested his hand on the “boys and girls who defend our nation… as they go into battle… as volunteers… as Your Son went to the cross.” Well, that part he has right. Some of these young patriots are certainly being crucified. Not only does the preacher fail to countenance such unpleasantries as the economic draft that has replaced conscription, making enlistment an attractive employment alternative over, say, a career in Walmart’s, or similar low wage employment available locally for youngsters with limited education and skills. He hasn’t a clue that “the nearly two-thirds of the 91, 764 U.S. troops,” according to The Washington Post, “who were separated from the military… in a recent four-year period had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress...“

This is not a mark among the preacher’s mental bullet points. It violates the paradigm of community pride toward the “high per capita amount of lives,” in the speaker’s awkward phrasing, “given to our nation from these two (Maine mid-coastal) counties, Knox and Lincoln.” Hinging his body slowly to face the MIA table, he chose to end his reflections by speaking the painfully obvious, that “no one will ever sit there. They won’t be able to come to the mess hall again,” sacred for GIs, he believed, as “another place of peace.” It was by now abundantly clear that for this holder of a minor local pulpit peace was not the way to peace - as A.J. Muste once had taught us. Peace was but a transitory moment at the chow hall along a path of military glory strewn with the bodies of the dead we had come here today to honor. There would be no peace without war.

story | by Dr. Radut