A different take on one of my photographs from the Memorial Mile on Madison's Speedway Road. (Best viewed large: Click on photo to get to my Flickr stream and click "All Sizes.")
The haunting display runs along the edge of Forest Hills Cemetery, which is the resting place for hundreds of Union and Confederate soldiers, as well as veterans who served in the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, Korea, Viet Nam and the first Gulf War. The week of Veterans Day, they were joined by symbolic grave markers representing the 4,800 Americans who perished in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have to stop filling our cemeteries this way.
Elton Tylenda has a lot to say about this. He's the member of Vets for Peace I talked to on Veterans Day when I stopped to take photos. He was kind enough to email me the editorial he wrote, "When Will We Ever Learn?" There's not much I can add other than reprinting it below. It's a must-read -- eloquent, forceful and moving. Read it. Pass it around. Email to your friends, using the handy gizmo at the bottom.
by Elton Tylenda
Veterans Day one year later and VFP members once again erected a Memorial Mile of tombstone replicas to demonstrate the growing cost in blood of our illegal wars of occupation. This year the display is along Speedway road in Forest Hill Cemetery. Walking the mile in the cold and gloom I thought of a poem learned as a child titled "In Flanders Fields." A Canadian officer wrote it in 1915 while viewing the crosses of those killed in WWI, "the great war - the war to end wars." The lines of that poem altered in my mind to: In Madison the tombstones grow amid the leaves row on row.
This year it took hundreds of feet of additional ground and tombstones to represent the wasted lives from year five of Bush's folly. In reality "the war to end wars" actually set the stage for WWII and our present wars of aggression actually generate more hatred and terror throughout the world.
The Memorial Mile is one attempt to resurrect the truth which has been lost in the false glorification and heroism of war fueled by the Pentagon's paid propagandists posing as independent analysts and journalists. There are real heroes in times of war but they go unrecognized until people can see through the "fog of war" that propaganda generates. Friedrich Sigmund-Schultze, the German who refused to be part of his country's war of aggression in 1914 and later co-founded the international peace group The Fellowship Of Reconciliation, is a good example. At the time he was berated and jailed as a traitor.
Today we have a growing number of Iraq veterans like former staff sergeant Camilo Majia who was featured in the PBS documentary, "Soldiers of Conscience." He was jailed and dishonorably discharged from the military for his heroic efforts to inform us about, and take a stand against, the slaughter of civilians and other war crimes in Iraq. As a combat soldier in Vietnam I didn't have the courage to take a stand against the brutal mistreatment and murders of civilians there. So unlike Mejia I was rewarded for being a "good" boy blindly following orders and playing it safe. In the light of Majia's heroism my medal, and honorable discharge feel like a badge of cowardice and shame. Majia and veterans like him deserve the highest honor and not just on Veterans Day. They are the conscience of our nation in these dark times.
People viewing the Memorial Mile might consider the following: the thousands of veterans who committed suicide are not represented here, nor are the hundreds of KBR and Blackwater mercenaries killed since 2001; If VFP set tombstones in the same dense pattern to represent civilians killed in Iraq, the display would run uninterrupted for over 200 miles; and active duty soldiers consider this – When I returned to Vietnam 30 yrs after the war I was asked by a woman, "why did you come half way across the world to kill us?" The reasons I would have given her 30 yrs ago have since been exposed as lies - just three remain: control of the Michelin rubber plantations, corporate profits, and permanent bases to protect corporate profits. In Iraq it will come down to control of oil, corporate profits, and permanent bases to protect corporate profits. Is that worth dying for? Or worse, is that worth killing for?
Looking around the cemetery I see thousands of flowers on hundreds of graves of soldiers killed from the civil war to the present, and Pete Seger's song replays in my head: "where have all the flowers gone?...gone to graveyards every one...when will they ever learn?" We the majority can change this with or without the support of president Obama – yes we can! WE are the ones we've been waiting for. Exposing the truth about slavery led to its end. In the true spirit of Armistice – now Veterans Day, together we can do the same about war.
Note: Vets for Peace are looking for volunteers to help remove the markers. If you want to pitch in, show up at Forest Hill Cemetery in Madison at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow, Saturday, Nov. 15.