There are a lot of war memorials in our great country. Statues and plaques with names of soldiers, everyday, ordinary people who picked up arms for a cause and who left everything on battlefields that are now grassy hills just a few blocks from your neighborhood grocery store.
When I visit these places, I read about the courage of the young men who left their homes in the middle of the night, following orders but not knowing exactly where they would end up. Somehow, in every memorial, we, Americans, are the victors. We may have lost a battle or two, but we always ended up winning.
I learn something new each time I’m at a war memorial. Still, I rarely learn something important about people, how we talk to each other, our way of negotiating, problem-solving. I often leave these places scratching my head, wondering where the handshaking memorial could be found.
I think we should erect a statue with two people shaking hands. “Once enemies, at this site, and on this day, Mr. Smith and Mr. Daly came to an agreement before the fighting began.” It doesn’t sound as enticing as bronze and copper soldiers holding large guns and charging forward.
We can’t celebrate what we don’t see. Our children don’t know what we don’t tell them. How we avoided conflict, large and small. How on almost regular occasions, we manage to hold communities together despite differing perspectives on everything from sidewalk paint to armed security guards in schools.
Watching the evening news, one might get the impression that we are at each other’s throats. We wake up angry and go to sleep even angrier. Fingers pointing, faces scowling. Parents shouting, kids in depression.
Sigh. We should be the happiest people on earth. We have so much that others don’t have in other places. Maybe we don’t know it because we don’t see it.
I’m not against war memorials. They have a purpose, but I want to see memorials of reconciliation, of coming together, of finding agreement. They can go up in town squares and outside of public libraries.