Bataan Death March, the Alamo and Gettysburg

Zipping through D.C. this week in my car named Zippy, I noticed “Bataan Street” off Massachusetts Avenue.  I wondered, “Who would want to live on that street, death march and all?” and determined to come home and learn more about why it got the name.   And whether it’s making any difference in helping people remember something horrific to avoid.

I read that the Japanese have apologized for the “Bataan death march” (the 1942 forced march of American and Filipino prisoners of war on the Bataan peninsula in the Philippines to prison camps, a war crime).  Reports of casualties vary but somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 people died either while marching or in the internment camps as a result of the brutal treatment.

And here we are in D.C. blithely driving down Bataan Street. Does it make any difference?  Do people think, “Never again?” Do younger people even know where Bataan is or what it signifies?

How about something more commonly known?  What is the role of memorials?

The Alamo feels like hallowed ground, but the main thing it does for me is to increase my sense that I am a wimp who never would have made it (in spite of being descended from Jim Bowie, inventor of the Bowie knife) and increase my awe at the incursion of urban sprawl into San Antonio’s treasured site.  I muse on all this as I stroll the Riverwalk.  I admit that I have never thought through the lessons of the battle and what they might mean for me (or us) today.

The Alamo Today

And today is the anniversary of Little Round Top at Gettysburg.  There’s something very sacred about wandering that battlefield, knowing that men died there, fighting for a cause that both sides believed just and important.  But have I left there reflecting on what I would be prepared to die for?  I should.

Would Abraham Lincoln be pleased with what we visitors take away (besides souvenir bullets)?  After all, he said, “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion….”

Pacifist that I am, I’m not condoning nor promoting war… but simply wondering, when people visit a site that exists to REMIND, are we actually reminded of anything?  Does it alter our behavior?

When we explode Roman candles this weekend, or eat watermelon and cakes made to look like the stars and stripes, will we link all the traditions to the change we wish to see or effect, or will we simply cruise down Bataan Street to the National Mall wondering why the street name has so many vowels?


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