On Memorial Day, I stood at a war memorial with a group of Veterans for Peace. We were honoring the war dead. I was filled with the sadness and discouragement of having lived through one war unfolding from another and witnessing all of the resulting deaths, poverty, and devastation.
I live with pain from the devastation and violence that are products of U.S. military and economic policies throughout our history. I recoil as I watch and learn about the graphic violence in our movies, television, and video games. It seems to me that we are training our children—and reinforcing within ourselves—a violent war mentality.
Our schools and many of our political leaders keep telling us that we are the “greatest country on Earth.” Why do our leaders have to say this? Why do they and the media express grief at the loss of our soldiers but not at the loss of millions of women, men, and children in other countries who perish in these perpetual wars?
I have a dream that we Americans will proclaim ourselves to be citizens of the world before all else. I have an outrageous dream that on every flagpole there is an Earth flag above the American flag. I have a dream that we Americans learn to teach our children to love and honor all humans, all beings, and our precious planet.
My family was deeply committed to our Congregational church when I was growing up. During worship each Sunday, there was a ritual that included a general confession. As I remember it, it went “Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from our ways like lost sheep, we have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts.… But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us; forgive those who are penitent.”
This prayer became embedded in my memory and my heart. When I began attending a Friends meeting as a college freshman, I would reflect on it during the silence. These traditions of repenting and seeking forgiveness, present in many traditions, invite us to face the truth about ourselves. I have found them helpful and humbling.
Several years ago, I came across Miriam Therese Winter’s version of “America the Beautiful.” There is one verse that goes:
How beautiful, sincere lament, the wisdom born of tears.
The courage called for to repent the bloodshed through the years.
My heart latched on to these words. I believe that we Americans need to seek a national transformation. We have a right to proudly recognize our achievements. But I pray that we will, with humility and with sorrow, also recognize the faults and failures that have accompanied us throughout our history.
I believe we can never truly be a great nation until we openly and humbly face ourselves as a country—the good and the ugly—and move forward into the future with compassion and courage. Let’s join the world, not as “the greatest nation,” but as a nation alongside all others, struggling together nonviolently to create a world that saves its people and our planet.