Sunday, May 29, 2005

Sunday Sermonette: A different kind of Memorial Day

While driving to our meeting last Tuesday morning, Dima mentioned he wanted to make a quick detour to show me something he generally doesn't show our colleagues when they come to visit. Dima explained that knowing I am Jewish and tended to pay more "respectful" attention to differences of culture, holidays and goings on of the countries in which my colleagues live/work, he thought I would have a deep appreciation for what he was about to tell and show me. We only had a few minutes, but I knew we were at Piskarevskoye cemetery when I saw the eternal flame and heard Pachebel's Canon playing. The cemetery honors over a million people of Leningrad who died during the 900 day siege of Leningrad during WWII.

The cemetery itself is approximately 26 hectares and is immaculately kept. As you walk down the steps from the entrance, you see the main avenue that runs over 1,400 feet; at one end an eternal flame and at the other a statue of a woman (representing the motherland) laying a wreath of oak leaves at the graves of her children.

Most of the people of the city who died, did so due to cold and starvation brought about by the war. Half a million of those who died (420,000 of which were civilians) are buried in 186 mounds (mass graves) that line the cemetery. Each mound/mass grave has a granite tombstone indicating the year of burial, but nothing else about those buried in the grave.

When we think of WWII, we think (primarily) of the 6 Million Jews, Gyspsies, Gay & Handicapped people exterminated by the Nazis for political/"moral" reasons. We know there are a good deal more who died in battle, who died as "casualties of war." Those casualties of war are real people with friends and family who loved them, who tried to save them only to watch them die. A vast majority of those deaths were cruel and unnecessary. When we finally engaged as a country in WWII, it was for the honorable purpose of ending the war. The servicemen who gave their innocence, if not their lives, did so for the cause of freedom. Since that time most of this country has been lulled into a false sense of security that we would always be free, that fascism could never take hold here and that we'd never have to fear that one man's religious opium be our own. Fundagelical "Christians" have waged an all out war against those who will not live in accordance to their beliefs, they see the only way to preserve fundagelical religious beliefs and lifestyle is to prevent others from living in accordance with their own and they will ensure that via legislation. Neither the founding fathers, nor those who gave their lives protecting the very freedom of religion that is threatened by today's Revangelical party would be pleased by the current holy war in which we are engaged. I wonder what Memorials our descendants will be building to our attempt at revolt and restoration of freedom. But I wonder most about all the casualties to come and how preventable they were.

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