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War and peace

 |  Just Catholic

Every culture memorializes its war dead. The United States has Memorial Day. Canada has Remembrance Day*. Down under, they celebrate ANZAC Day. And in countries of the Caribbean and Africa, in Indonesia and the United Kingdom, there is some version of Heroes' Day.

I mean the war dead no disrespect. I have been to many, many Memorial Day ceremonies. But no culture seems to honor peace. Not only that, no culture seems to really want peace.

Sometimes it is economic. Too many nations sell too many weapons to too many other countries. Subtle and surrogate economic warfare undermines the buyers' thoughts of peace. They need weapons because their big brothers say they do. They buy the weapons with funds their big brothers "lend" them. They fight against the bad guys who get weapons from their big brothers' enemies.

Sometimes it is political. Nation A has land or oil or minerals its next door neighbor, Nation B, would dearly like to have. So Nation A bulks up its forces, conscripting young men to fight the young men of Nation B, all the while proclaiming that history, and often God, is on its side. They die there, the young men of Nation A and Nation B. Some, buried where they fell, may never have a flag or a poppy on their graves. Others lie side by side, long lines of white crosses with names and dates and ranks, honored by the sons and daughters they never knew.

Sometimes it is just happenstance. A rogue military unit takes over the Capitol or the army and dictatorship arises. A maniac shoots a leader and chaos issues forth. An accident, a vote gone wrong, or a half-remembered ethnic battle ignites a conflict.

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No matter economic, political, or happenstance, people die.

The young ones in uniform die, to be sure. Whether economic or political or merely accidental, the boys and men who looked so sharp, who marched along to bands and cheers, now lie dead or dying on their own or on another's soil. So many of them believed they marched off to defend and to protect their homeland, their culture, their women. In large respect, they quite probably did so. But the system that cut off their lives and shredded their own hopes, along with the dreams of they whom they loved, does not repay them. Yes, it honors them, but it does not repay them. There is no reparation for a life stolen in its youth.

Is there a solution? Why in the 2,700 years since Aristophanes wrote the play "Lysistrata" have women not stepped up to end all this? These are our husbands, brothers, sons -- and increasingly our sisters and daughters -- for whom the crucible of war becomes a death trap. You know the plot of "Lysistrata." The name means "Army-disbander." The women of Greece want to stop the unending Peloponnesian war. They give their men an ultimatum: no peace, no sex. It worked.

But that play is a comedy. The world today is stage to tragedy -- in Nigeria, in South Sudan, in nearly every country hugging the outer rim of the fragile planet we call Earth. With societies electronically knit together, our economics and our politics are prey to happenstance. The old wars in the poorer countries still use bullets; the new wars in the first world use computers. The old wars create draped caskets in which young soldiers travel home. The new wars' victims are the people, poor and rich, caught in a financial system they can neither control nor understand.

In Greece, the single war with Peloponnesian League was unending, or so it seemed. For about 32 years, Athens and Sparta traded volleys and attacks. The list of wars since then is similarly unending. Large and small, they took their toll and take it even now. Cannot we all, including the braided and beribboned men and women who serve their nations proudly, demand our economic and political forces celebrate what is positive in our relationships, and bring us peace?

Yes, every culture memorializes its war dead. Every culture waves a flag to celebrate the final sacrifices of the ones who carried arms to battle. We honor them, we truly do. Who honors they who cry for peace?

*An earlier version of this column incorrectly named the day.

[Phyllis Zagano is senior research associate-in-residence at Hofstra University and winner of the 2014 Isaac Hecker Award for Social Justice. She will speak June 9 at Holy Family Church, South Pasadena, Calif., and Sept. 18 at the University of St. Francis in Joliet, Ill. From June 9 to July 8, she will conduct a free online seminar about women in the diaconate based on the books Women Deacons: Past, Present, Future and Ordination of Women to the Diaconate in the Eastern Churches. Seminar registration is now open at http://people.hofstra.edu/phyllis_zagano/MOOS.html]

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