Arlington National Cemetery, Sept. 9, 2010

I’d never been before.

It’s a strange place. So many graves.

There are so many, and the hippie, Unitarian Universalist Quaker school graduate in me cannot help wondering how many of those graves are of people who died in vain. I have to wonder—I always have to wonder—if the wars that these men and women (but mostly men) fought it were justified and how many of them were sent to die because of some political power play, or a lie.

It’s a strange kind of patriotism, to be willing to die for your country. Or maybe it’s the most obvious kind and I am missing that particular patriotism gene: I have always known that if asked to go to war, I would say no.

I saw the changing of the guard at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It is so very ritualistic and I wonder if there is meant to be comfort in that ritual.

The entire cemetery does bring up an uncomfortable question: why all this for only soldiers? Of course, soldiers give up more then most of us do. They come back from war—if they come back—with wounds, both physical and psychic, that may never heal. Still, there are also soldiers responsible for war crimes that are never caught and no doubt some of them are buried at Arlington. And there are people who come out of childhood as if they have been to war. This is not to say that a cultural reverence of soldiers is a bad thing, merely to suggest that perhaps we revere other life just as much, and admit that soldiers are not immune to human foibles.

My father will be interred here. No doubt this is why I had to bite my lip as I walked out of the gates.

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