My husband and I just watched "Letters from Iwo Jima" on a rented video last night. I woke early this morning with memories rushing through my head, memories of the one my own family lost on Iwo Jima.
I was just a toddler when the remains of my first cousin Rudy were brought back to the United States for burial after the end of World War II. He had been a Marine killed in action on Iwo Jima while still a teen. Aunt Em and Uncle Joe lost their only child, and with him, they lost their future. They lost their future so that the rest of our family could have one. I remember the 21-gun salute, seeing my mother and my aunt sobbing and not having any idea why.
As I grew up I began to understand more. I saw my aunt riding in an open limousine labeled "Gold Star Mothers" in every Fourth of July Parade. Enormous dignity and unimaginable grief were etched in her face. I learned she had lost her first husband to cancer and, with her little girl, had moved back to live with her parents. My mother, 18 years younger than my aunt, was close in age to her little niece, and they shared a bed in the unheated attic. My mother said they would hurry into the attic in their nightclothes, jump under the covers, and beat their legs till the bed got warm. Then my mother's niece suddenly took ill and died of meningitis. Decades later, my mother would remark to me that she didn't know why she didn't get sick too, because they shared the same bed even while the little girl was ill.
My aunt remarried and had a son, the kind of son that would make any mother proud. She got to keep him for 18 years. Throughout my life, I knew that my aunt's cheerful and loving nature was the triumph of the human spirit over great loss. Through her I learned that life can be cruel, but that we must go on anyway, we can go on. I learned that the loss of a child permanently alters the course of parents' lives. For Aunt Em and Uncle Joe there was no son to go to college, no bride to be brought home, no grandchildren to fill a house with laughter. When they lost Rudy, they lost their own future, even as that loss protected my own.
My parents believed war accomplished only this--that young men die--and that governments will keep on waging war anyway, every so often. Today, lives are being lost in war again, including women in military service. Families are being destroyed both in the United States and in Iraq. For many of the survivors of this war, the future has been lost. Only for THIS war, the survivors are at risk of losing their future in another way--by the missed opportunity to address global warming while there is still time.
The war in Iraq, even the war on terror, will do its greatest harm by distracting us from waging war against global warming. In that sense, war today, anywhere for any reason, will be a destructive force spread over decades or centuries. One might argue that if not this war, then some other folly of mankind somewhere on this earth would have taken its place as a means to disrupt the effort we need for the larger threat of climate change. There are many candidate follies available....
I believe life is precious and should be lived joyously, and that Rudy would have wanted it so. But joyously doesn't mean wastefully or indulgently. Yet, just as some families lose everything in the current war, many American families continue with the Good Life, not even reducing holiday travel when gasoline prices go up and when consuming ever increasing amounts of fossil fuel is the wrong thing to do.
Seniors still have emotional and mental connections to war the way war used to be: the military draft, sugar and gasoline rationing for everyone, victory gardens, overtime our dads worked to build the machines of war. Everyone was affected in some way. Experiences like my memory of Rudy gave us strength to live life, and continue to give us strength into the future--for our work as Green Seniors.