Monday, August 26, 2013

More on the Gigantic Flag Mural

I’ve been thinking about why that monster flag mural has me obsessed.

I think I’ve got it: The US has the same problem India has.  A caste system.  We have a warrior caste.  Each generation makes sure there is a war for the next generation, so the warrior caste can continue.  They believe that being a warrior is a good profession, deserving a place of honor in our society.  They believe that if they are worthy they will come home alive, to help train the next generation.  But if it falls their lot to die on the field of battle, they will be honored.

I am not from the warrior caste.  My grandfather, father and brother were not soldiers.  My husband and his father and grandfather were not soldiers.  I have no sons and my daughters have no interest in being soldiers.

When I look at that flag, I see the Vietnam war protests all over again.  The US had no quarrel with Vietnam.  There was no reason for that war – except perpetuation of the warrior caste.  Our current wars are the same.  The US has no quarrel with Iraq or Afghanistan.  The suicide bombers were from Saudi Arabia.  The warrior caste seems to be shrinking.  Fewer soldiers are called to battle in this generation than in my generation.

I can accept that there is a warrior caste.  But that flag means something more.  The veterans’ park near my home (all 16 feet by 35 feet of it) has one mock tombstone for Private Ward.  The mural of the gigantic flag honors his death – not his life.  By honoring his death, it sends a message to future warriors that their deaths will be honored.  Not their lives.

I would prefer a triptych of Private Ward’s life. Perhaps a childhood scene, then a picture of him playing a sport, or going to his prom, and finally him in his camo uniform in Vietnam where he died.  I’m aware that showing his life, cut short, is an anti-war statement.  And I’m aware that the current overpowering flag painted above his mock tombstone is a pro-war statement.

Private Ward’s sister loved him.  She has memories of him growing up with her.  That is the person I believe deserves honor.  Not the abstract dead soldier with a tombstone bearing his name.  But this is a cultural divide.  The warrior caste calling to its own vs the rest of us, hoping to prevent wars and the pain they cause.

That flag mural claims territory on my block, just as congress claims territory in my taxes for wars I do not want.  I do not know if I have the right to tell a whole caste that I do not value their role.  In the Hindu religion, when Arjuna said, “I do not want to go to war. I do not want to kill my cousins,” Krishna said “You were born a warrior. Is there something wrong with that profession?”

A huge part of me wants to say, “Yes, there is something wrong with bringing up your children to be soldiers. There is something wrong with putting our country through wars every generation, so your caste can go to battle.”  But when I put it that way, I’m not sure I have the right to say that.  Members of other castes don’t like education, and I am a member of the educated caste.  They don’t like paying for the schools that create people like me.

So, when I look at that horrific flag and think about the cult of death that it represents, I see a quandary, and I have no answers.

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