Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Portland's Peace Memorial Park

Portland has a new park which has some unintended symbolism.

The Peace Memorial Park, according to Anne Saker’s story in today’s Oregonian, is to remember not only “soldiers’ deaths but also of the millions of civilian lives lost in all conflicts.”

The unintended symbolism came with the development of the park. The second page subtitle for the story reads: “Volunteers got weeds out, then put flowers in”.

Isn’t that the story of some wars?

In World War II, the Allies got the Nazis out of Europe and then the U.S. aided establishment of free governments and sustained them with billions in aid via the Marshall Plan and NATO.

In Iraq, Coalition forces had to get Saddam and the Baathists out, who had killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians over the course of a couple of decades, in order to aid establishment of a free government there.

Unfortunately without the use of military force to stop those who do wholesale killing, more civilians have died in the last century under totalitarian, dictatorial and genocidal actions than died due to declared conflicts--even including fire bombing and the atom bomb.

Just to begin with there are the 5 to 7 million victims of the holocaust. They were targeted victims--not civilian casualties of prosecuting the war.

Or how about the 4-5 million civilians who were killed under Pol Pot's regime? Too bad no one cared enough to intervene and help them. But a park is a nice remembrance--unless they don't count because they were not killed in a declared conflict.

That's 9 to 12 million victims right there, and we haven't touched on the two biggest civilian killers: The Soviet Union and China.

The new park is more international in scope--it does not memorialize American civilian deaths. There was no mention of 9/11 for non-declared conflict U.S. civilian casualties or of the Civil War’s civilian casualties (which is the closest event in time to find any significant number of American civilian declared conflict casualties).

Though remembering civilian casualties is an important part of the memorial park's raison d'etre, the only casualty specifically cited in the article was a U.S. soldier killed in the Iraq war.

About 250 people celebrated the creation of Peace Memorial Park -- a 2-acre site near the Rose Quarter and the Steel Bridge -- by Veterans for Peace and real estate developer Brad Perkins. For them, the unveiling counterbalanced the martial nature of most Memorial Day ceremonies.

Anita Pritchard, who with her husband, Mark, visited the park with their children, said she had laid flowers Sunday at the grave of her nephew, William Ramirez, 19, a soldier killed in Iraq two years ago.

The peace park gave her solace, she said.

"Portland is ahead of the curve here," she said. "There are polls showing that many people are very much against the war. This shows that Portland is actually doing something."

A further unintended symbolism of the new park is that there is going to have to be ongoing weeding and care of the flowers if the park is to remain inviting. We won’t be able to redeploy the caretakers or stop spending money on supplies to keep the weeds out, flowers nurtured, and grass cut.

It’s a little like NATO–except the flowers won’t participate in their own upkeep. It may be a little like Iraq too after the democracy has grown to be mostly self-sustaining.

Anything worthwhile requires both continual effort and commitment–-especially trying to stop civilian casualties whether from terrorists, dictators or conflicts.

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