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Local view: We can honor war dead by seeking peace

Our local veterans’ organization — Veterans for Peace, Chapter 80 — has been denied access to participate in Duluth’s Spirit Valley Memorial Day parade this year. We took part in previous parades and believe we presented our message respectfully and that it was well-received.

The purpose of Memorial Day is to honor and remember people who lost their lives in service to the country.

Count us among those who believe in honoring the fallen.

Many people have worked to expand and protect the freedoms we enjoy in this country. These struggles were fought by people in our legislatures, courts, workplaces and streets. Many have given up personal wealth and comfort, and some have even lost their lives: abolitionists, suffragettes, civil-rights workers, voting-rights activists, labor-union organizers, whistleblowers, peace marchers and, of course, members of our armed forces.

Our attitude is that the best way to honor people who died for us is to work for peace. Maintaining peace is a primary objective of our military. So working for peace should put us on the same side as people who currently are in the armed forces.

But we believe we go to war when we run out of options, when we are unable to settle differences peacefully and when we have allowed conditions to deteriorate so the only solution seems to be violent conflict.

War is the result of failure — failure of peoples and nations to understand one another and failure to find the means to live on the same planet together in harmony. We mean no disrespect. We honor the courage, sacrifice and heroism of people who have faced hostile fire.

Many of us are ready to concede there may be times when war and violence is the only course available. But that is no cause for joy. There’s no reason to take pride in our failure to get along with one another across political and cultural boundaries.

Listen to former President Jimmy Carter (a veteran): “War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always evil, never a good. We will not learn how to live together in peace by killing each other’s children.”

Or President Dwight Eisenhower (a veteran): “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”

We need to search for alternatives to war as we honor people who sacrificed their lives for us. We need to find ways to break out of this destructive spiral of suffering and death.

We acknowledge our approach to honoring the dead may not be acceptable to everyone. But we believe our voices should be heard and that, as veterans, we should not be excluded from a Memorial Day parade.

Denying us our voices may not be illegal, but it borders on being un-American.

Listen to Eisenhower again: “Here in America we are descended in blood and spirit from revolutionists and rebels — men and women who dare to dissent from accepted doctrine. As their heirs, may we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion.”

We will continue to try to have respectful dialogue with other groups and with the Memorial Day parade organizers in particular. But this year we will be conducting our own remembrance at 3 p.m. Monday at Lake Place Plaza, above the Lakewalk at Michigan Street and Second Avenue East. You are welcome to join us.

Tom Morgan of Duluth is a combat veteran of the Vietnam War; is a member of Veterans for Peace, Chapter 80; and is an associate professor of Russian and the director of the Alworth Center for the Study of Peace and Justice at the College of St. Scholastica.