Happy Memorial Weekend! So many things to celebrate—the beginning of summer, the joy of family, our gratitude to veterans and those who lost their lives in war.
Like most of us, I hate the idea of war. I know what it’s like to lose a loved one suddenly, and to have my child killed in action in a place far away under conditions I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy would be a trauma I don’t think I could endure. It all seems so senseless. But wars have been fought since humankind first began to gather in tribes across our world. We are a violent species, and our children of 18, 19, 20 years pay the price for this.
What soldiers do, though, is bring you and I as writers a solemn and precious gift—the gift of a free press. The gift of being able to say and write what we feel is important. The US Constitution in the first amendment recorded under our Bill of Rights guarantees our freedom of expression. Our military personnel protect that freedom in a very real way.
I don’t know if my uncle worried about the specifics of a free press when he went to war in the 1940s, or when he had to shoot or be shot in the South Pacific. He was just a kid who did what he was told. In all the years I “knew” him, Uncle Jack only talked of his military service once. That was just a year or two before he died, but the stories he told were frighteningly vivid even after almost 70 years had passed. Uncle Jack’s service and the service of his buddies in WWII guaranteed that a book like Arthur Miller’s The Crucible would be published and not burned as so many books were by the Nazis. Thank you, Uncle Jack.
And even when journalists and soldiers come in principled conflict as happened in the 1960’s, our freedom to write, to challenge our mores and common thinking are protected. While young men and women sailed across to Vietnam to, as the posters said at the time, “meet new people – and then shoot them,” our journalists at home and in the rice paddies far away were protected and even encouraged to write, to discover, to unearth the important stories. That’s how we ended up with such classic writing as the Watergate investigations by Woodward and Bernstein, published in the Washington Post, Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin, and the television show, M.A.S.H. that criticized American involvement in foreign wars.
Today, journalists travel with armies, report in countries about political and human rights violations, cover our world with information. According to the website cpj.org (Committee to Protect Journalists), there were 73 journalists killed in 2015, and so far in 2016 there have been 10 killed as they did their jobs of writing. Today, people still sacrifice their lives so that crucial truths have the chance to thrive.
This leaves you and me with an important role in the story of human history. If we have the freedom to write whatever we want, we have the obligation to write and reflect our world passionately in our stories. Whether we write romance, or crime, fantasy or creative non-fiction, let our writing be from our hearts, and be as honest as possible.
This Memorial weekend, as we acknowledge our fallen soldiers who protect our freedom of expression, perhaps we can also spare a moment for the journalists who exercise that protected freedom. And in the process of remembrance and gratitude we can encourage our own growth as humans and writers.