MANCHESTER, NH — The video posted above was shared with me via email by a veteran from Nashua, Lew Chipola, of VFW Post 483. After watching it this morning, I was struck by the theme, not of war, but of the human cost of war.
Please take a moment to click and watch the video before you read on.
Memorial Day began as Decoration Day nearly 150 years ago. It was designated as a day of remembrance in May, when flowers are in bloom around the country, so that memorial wreaths and simple bouquets could be laid at the graves of soldiers who had fought and died in the Civil War.
We close schools and businesses on this day so we can plan parades and Memorial Day ceremonies, honoring those who served and died.
All these years later, it is sadly as relevant as ever. Our war dead continue to mount as we count the numbers of our sons and daughters who are sent to foreign lands to fight a nebulous enemy, never to return.
Over the weekend I watched part of a four-part documentary, “Verses in Exile,” following the life of contemporary poet Kosal Khiev, who was 1 year old when his family arrived in the U.S. as refugees from Cambodia. His life did not go well, although his journey has given him a unique voice.
His family struggled in a strange culture without a lot of support. While most of his siblings managed to find their way in America, Kosal got lost to the world of drugs, violence, and eventually prison, serving 14 years for attempted murder. Today he is trying to turn that experience into something powerful, for those who have the heart to hear his message, which is directly tied to the toll of war on the living as well as the dead. After his release from prison he was deported to Cambodia, to live out his life in a country he never knew as home.
The film pointed to statistics, about the high percentage of war refugees who live in poverty after they arrive, compared to the U.S average, and how much of the burden of life after relocation falls to the children, who must assimilate while becoming the bridge for their elders, between the life they had and the life ahead. The word homeland becomes a murky place, and they will spend most of their lives reconciling the home they left with the home they inherited.
As the story unfolded, I was reminded of the thousands of refugees living here in Manchester, relocated from nearly two dozen countries where war and persecution persists.
Memorial Day is a day for remembering our beloved men and women in U.S. military uniform, who signed up for a job that required them to enter a combat zone and put their lives on the line. It was not a gamble; it was a calculated risk. That is no small thing. Due to their bravery, families like Kosal’s were likely saved from the brutality of war and certain death.
Although they lost something very real in translation, from Cambodia to the United States of America, they are alive and their family story goes on. Just as many of us are here today because our families came to this country from places of political oppression, where the prelude to war was enough to send them into a strange land of promise and uncertainty.
Although I was not alive during WWII, I’ve seen enough movies and documentaries to know that we had to act against Hitler and his allies. I was just a kid during Vietnam, but I understand that the politics of war complicated the mission of our troops. It has taken us decades to finally stop blaming our duty-bound servicemen for carrying out the atrocities of that war, and thank them for all that they sacrificed.
This Memorial Day I can’t shake a scene from “Verses in Exile.” One of Kosal’s elders is watching video footage from Cambodia when he breaks down. From someplace deep in his soul, this quiet man cries out for the life he lost in his homeland 50 years ago. He mourns the friends and family who didn’t make it out, brutally murdered by the Khmer Rouge. His angry tears flow freely for the loss of his culture, his heritage, his dreams.
And speaking out loud to anyone who will hear him on film, he implores the leaders of the world to stop making war, to lay down arms and find some other way to resolve the problems we humans create — border disputes, political power struggles over oil and other natural resources, religious differences.
I am with him.
Because, in my lifetime, I have learned that even when war solves something, it changes little. Memorial Day is a day to remember that the losses of war are permanent and far reaching, and can never be undone. Memorial Day is a day to pray that our children’s children will finally find a way to live in a world where peace is not the exception, but the rule.
Carol Robidoux is publisher and editor of Manchester Ink Link.
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