Mourn the Dead, and Fight Like Hell for the Living

Posted by CODEPINK Staff

In the kitchen the other night, I was thinking about my nephew, the Marine lieutenant, and suddenly these words flashed through my mind: "I want him to come to my funeral. I don't want to go to his funeral."

A few years ago, when my family gathered for my father's funeral, the only thing that comforted me was the sight of my son with his four cousins -- all strong, healthy young men – walking to their cars to go to the veterans' cemetery in Portland, Oregon. Earlier that summer I had written some tough words to my youngest nephew, protesting his decision to join the Marines Officer Corps. When I greeted him, I looked into his eyes and said, "Do you forgive me?" and he said, "Nothing to forgive" and warmly embraced me. Love for our family brought us together across a terrible line that divides many families.

Months later, I stood with my mother at my father's grave and read his marker. Next to his grave was the very recent grave of a young man killed in Iraq. It was the day after Easter, and the murdered vet's grave was covered in little bunnies, plastic colored eggs, and other trinkets. I thought of how that young man's family must have gathered there, imagining him there with them, speaking about or TO him, remembering Easters of his childhood. Perhaps Easter had been his favorite holiday.

I never want to mourn my nephew. I am afraid to know the utter loneliness of the spirit that one mother talked about on Mother's Day 2006, from a little stage in Lafayette Park. I have shed so many tears over the unconscionable wars of choice in Iraq and Afghanistan. I do not want to weep the bitterest tears of all, those I have seen falling from Cindy Sheehan’s eyes.

In Arlington Cemetery, on a fiercely cold January day, I made a pilgrimage to visit the graves of many young people. They have been struck down in two wars of occupation and profiteering that neither Congress, nor our new president, nor “we the people” have yet had the courage to bring to an end. After walking among the gravestones, reading the stories of horror that each symbolized – the five buried together because they had died together in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan; the 18-year-old who had never voted; the many staff sergeants and lance corporals whodied protecting “their” men – I fell to my knees and screamed curses at those who send the young to kill and be killed.

Because there is no draft, no war tax, no rationing, and little honest, in-depth mainstream media coverage of these wars, most Americans act as if these horrors have little or nothing to do with them. Timidity, apathy and hopelessness keep the inertia of war going, crushing lives and bleeding our economy.

Working to end these wars is often discouraging, and a huge task. But I feel very alive doing it. Indeed, I often feel both the camaraderie and the awareness of life’s vulnerable beauty that have traditionally been spoken of as the glories of war.

On a button on my pink jacket, and on my heart, I carry the words of Mary “Mother” Jones, a labor organizer: “Mourn the dead, and fight like hell for the living.” Today, on the National Media Day of Action on Afghanistan, Memorial Day, and every day, I will try to live up to those words, and to help make a world where the young bury the old, and rarely the reverse – and where war is as unthinkable as cannibalism.

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