I have placed these two pictures together for a reason.
Some people might look at these images with a sense of pride, taking from them a message that sacrifice and hard work are what make a nation great.
Others might find this particular juxtaposition somewhat uncomfortable. There is, after all, a serene perfection in the image of Arlington National Cemetery that we in the West have come to expect in our monuments. The mirrored layout of the two photos, however, might suggest that someone could tear into that hallowed ground, that the one image could somehow become the other. And this corruption, this desecration of the sacred, should I hope, put us ill at ease.
And yet, we are even now gouging into the Earth, plowing a petroleum pipeline through sacred land in North Dakota, stripping away the dignity of the honored dead and despoiling the environment, all in the interest of the mighty dollar. We are beating, gassing, and arresting the people who stand bravely in the path of this desecration. We threaten them with guns and loose attack dogs on them.
And I wondered, just for a moment, how WE would react if the shoe were on the other foot. What if it was something WE considered sacred that was being ruined in the interest of corporate greed.
And then I wondered if we, as a people, hold anything sacred at all.
And I am being very liberal with my use of the word “we” here because I don’t think any of us are clean from these particular sins. If ‘you’ or ‘I’ am offended by these latest outrages against the heritage of our native peoples, we have benefited, willingly or no, from countless others. It’s something we were born to, I’m afraid.
We are raised in it.
Or do we not still teach our children the old lie, that Christopher Columbus sailed out from Spain in the spirit of adventure and exploration?
Maybe we’ll tell them later that he actually sailed off looking for cash and prestige, and that when he failed in his quest to discover a new and more direct trade route with Asia, he settled instead on exploiting the unfortunate natives he encountered for their gold, and then selling them into sexual servitude and slavery.
The church didn’t like it.
They eventually jailed him for it.
But he still gets the bloody parade, doesn’t he.
We honor him, butcher that he was, and with good reason. The impressions made by his boots on the shores of the ‘New World’ have never really faded, and for over five hundred years we have followed in his swaggering stride, sweeping across two continents in our hunger for the resources therein.
And the people who were already there?
We did what he did. We slaughtered them, starved them, displaced them.
And when the folks back home became uncomfortable with the carnage, we displayed our great civility and generosity by writing and signing treaty after treaty, only to break them before the ink had time to dry.
What DO we hold sacred when no bond restrains us, neither word nor contract.
So what is the difference, really, between a rough circle of stones in a weed choked field in North Dakota, and that field of crisp white markers on a perfectly manicured lawn in Virginia? Is it just that when WE hold something sacred, we throw money at it until it is suitably majestic. Is that what makes it a holy place? Or is it the bones of our fallen that lay in the dirt, that give the place its power over us?
Are we really so blind that we cannot, as a people, see the spirit in the land?
Or is it really just the money that we worship after all?
I’ve been following another story.
There is a proposed development project at the Grand Canyon in Arizona, a 420-acre resort complex, complete with hotels, restaurants, and upscale shopping on the canyon rim, and a tramway designed to carry tourists by the millions down to the canyon floor. There at the sacred confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers, if the plans go through, the rugged beauty of the canyon floor will “improved” by the addition of a restaurant, a river walk, and a several thousand seat amphitheater.
Welcome to America, where nothing is sacred, except for the dollar.