It’s interesting to me that the United States has both a Memorial Day and a Veterans Day. It has seemed to me on many occasions one such holiday would be enough. That may seem especially strange to say given I’m a veteran. (Yes, I’m going to post more about a US holiday than about speculative fiction, though I will apply my comments to fiction as well.)
A natural division between Veterans/Memorial lies in the fact that not all the fallen we may wish to honor on Memorial Day are veterans and not all veterans who have died did so in combat. But veterans who died in combat are still the first people I think of on Memorial Day. Though this year, there will be two people that especially matter to me above all others this Memorial Day. Both were veterans but only one died in a war.
The first is Major Stuart Adam Wolfer, a friend of mine who died in Iraq in 2008, in an enemy rocket attack, while I happened to be less than a football field’s length away from him, an event that wounded 17 and killed 2. (I helped with the wounded but did not know until later that Stu had died.) His family founded an institute to remember him, MSAWI, that helps Jewish military members in combat zones (Major Wolfer was Jewish). He and I were friends but not the very best of friends (to simply tell the truth), but his untimely death and where it happened, that I was there and that I saw the aftermath of the attack (even though, thankfully perhaps, I didn’t see him), makes his death especially–shall I say “memorable”?
And Stuart Adam Wolfer reminds me that war costs lives, even lives you wouldn’t expect to lose. That responsible citizens who people admire are selectively killed in wars generally at higher rates than people everyone agrees are terrible. Which is one of war’s great tragedies.
The second name I will especially remember on Memorial Day is my son, Mikhail Daniel Perry, a US Marine Corps Reserve veteran who had a peacetime deployment that took him to South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, and Guam, all places I’ve never traveled, while serving as part of a maintenance crew for F-18 fighter jets. My son was willing to embrace discipline and sacrifice, though he had no desire to stay in the USMC beyond his initial enlistment.
Mik (as everyone called him) died in an accident, not in a war, but received a veteran’s burial at Fort Sill National Cemetery.
The thing his untimely death has in common with Stu’s is both deaths were of people almost everyone would agree were more decent and self-sacrificing than average, people willing to serve others. Men who were not selfish, or at least were significantly less so that people generally are.
Yet a strange thing is that both will not age any more…both will remain frozen in memory as they were, while the rest of us slowly move to join them, moment by moment approaching the time we will join them in our own graves. Their deaths are not less tragic because of that, but they remind us that all death is tragic, all human life ends with a potential for us to have done more, seen more, experienced more. Though of course some come much closer to a full life than others.
I put a verse referencing the resurrection from the dead on my son’s headstone because I believe our human desire for life after death is not just wishful thinking. It’s a desire put in us from the beginning, from the God who created us, who makes it available to us by his actions, not ours. I believe that resurrection will come, but death is still with us in the meantime. And it’s still right and appropriate to remember those who passed away before us, those who did great things for us, for our country, for our world, and even for our personal lives.
So how does this relate to speculative fiction, to the mission of Speculative Faith?
I first of all find some fictional portrayals of war rather too enthusiastic about it. War is ultimately the product of sin and kills good people. Yes, it is often necessary (and it isn’t a sin to kill in all cases in my view)–and at times is even glorious in that it can highlight human self-sacrifice and courage. But it’s still an ugly business. It costs the lives of good people like Major Stuart Adam Wolfer.
Obviously people are going to write what they write and read what they read and I can’t change that. But I hope people will write stories that feature warriors who in fact look forward to peace. Because there are many of us like that.
And I further hope our fiction points to the hope of the resurrection, even in worlds vastly unlike the one we inhabit. Because that longing for genuine life after death is a deep part of who human beings are–and that should be reflected in our fiction.
And a final tidbit I can offer to the world of writing is to point out that fictional cultures will have their own ways to remember their dead, both the valiant and the so-called “ordinary” deaths. So please don’t forget that.