What is it about June? June is a month that is filled with recent history's auspicious and horrible remembrances, memorials and prayers. While some people can celebrate -- perhaps a graduation, marriage, or birth -- there is too much somber history that clouds this time of the summer solstice. Assassinations and disasters, but particularly wars.
One hundred years ago in late June 1914, the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand's assassination in Sarajevo commenced the savagery of the First World War. I have walked the remnants of Verdun battlefield in France, seen the long-decayed trenches, and fields of holes dug by artillery explosions. Yes, there are cemeteries and museums. But there are also ghosts.
Seventy years ago, on June 6, hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen invaded Nazi held Europe on the shores of France. Among them was my father who, although initially assigned to a logistics outfit, later that year found himself in desperate combat in the bitter cold of the Bulge. He would never speak about it except to say it was "bad, really bad."
The Korean War also began in June (1950) with the North Korean offensive, ultimately supported by the Chinese and Soviets. Another uncle fought in Korea and lived to tell about it -- bringing family holiday dinners to a deafening quiet whenever he would begin to retell the hordes of Chinese story. At ten years old, I did not understand. Later I did. His combat was more than sixty years ago.
June 30 years ago, in Nicaragua, there was a vicious American sponsored war against the Sandinista government -- the Contra War -- helped enormously by illegal shipments to Iran arranged by, among others, then-Col. Ollie North. I was in Nicaragua to witness Contra weaponry kill women and children in villages in the north of the country. I could not stop the onslaught and was but a helpless witness.
Tiananmen Square -- 25 years ago this week -- now forcibly erased from collective memories within China. In early 1989 I had been in China during a hopeful period of liberation and free thinking. No more...since profit and the Party now rule in a willing alliance. Students, professors and workers I had met died.
Ten years ago there were two battles in Fallujah, and combined they were the most devastating urban combat for American (and Allied) forces for decades. There would still be ten more years of war, and thousands of more deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This year, once again on Memorial Day, I journeyed to the black granite wall and touched the name of a kid from Guam whose death I cannot forget. He died forty four years ago -- in June.
During the next weekend, in June, I will go again to two churches that sponsor Iraq and Afghan vets support groups. This has nothing to do with religion, but a lot to do with understanding. I'm a bit too old for them but share some experiences. Indeed, it is not just combat but seeing and feeling death around you and being inexorably drawn into the normalcy of slaughter.
Over one hundred years, seventy years, or ten years ... humans continue to fight wars that lead to needs for care and comfort of physically and psychologically wounded here and in countries we invade or seek to control.
Let us hope for few other Junes.
Daniel Nelson leads a consulting firm in Virginia.