A Memorial Day for War’s Fallen, Perhaps Someday for War Itself?
I wrote a song in the early 2000’s called “Arlington,” which partly retells the remarkable history of the nation’s last resting place for its fallen defenders but also notes that the cemetery has been running short of space. I’ve posted a new video version on YouTube to mark Memorial Day:
The core of the chorus is a question: “Where will they go when there’s no more room in Arlington?”
I first posted a version of this song here in 2008. It’s worth revisiting on Dot Earth as a way of reflecting on the seemingly endless chain of sacrifices, generation by generation, in defense of freedom and nationhood. Is it possible that a day will come when warfare will be history, instead of news — when there’ll be a memorial day not only for those who sacrificed, but for war itself?
There’s a long line of argument pointing to an eventual end to war, in part due to the increased connectedness and interdependence of human societies for whom it was once easier to identify someone else on the planet as the “other” — and thus a threat. Those making the case include Steven Pinker, Matt Ridley and, most recently, John Horgan in “The End of War.”
To some extent the roots of such thinking extend back at least to Darwin. In a 2008 piece called “Darwin and Havel’s Unified Planet Theory,” I cited Darwin’s articulation of this notion in “The Descent of Man,” first published in 1871:
As man advances in civilization, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races.
As I’ve been asserting lately, with the buildout of the “Knowosphere,” we may be poised to surmount that barrier. Or not.
We now have the tools and capacity to build a connected, informed, empathic, collaborative world — or to build walls and live in isolated bubbles.
My guess, no surprise, is that we’ll long inhabit a hybrid planet, with the trends largely toward more peaceful coexistence, and with losses in martial clashes — especially as a percentage of the global population — continuing to shrink.
But the bugles — brass or digital — will continue to play several dozen times a day at Arlington for a very long time to come.