Phillipian Commentary: Letter to the Editor

This is a call to build a war memorial. We have one, to be sure; in fact, we have many. We have the Bell Tower, and the bench[b][c] outside Borden on which we take team photos, and probably others I have not yet noticed. This is a call for a different kind of war memorial. This one is for all the victims of Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Somalia, et alii; for the indigenous peoples who have been eradicated by the American experiment; for the enslaved whose lives and ancestral memories have been stolen for profit.

The memorials we currently have honor the alumni who have passed in service. They are etched with names, class years, and wars fought. Let us continue to mourn those lives, for we knew them, and they have passed.

But let us, too, mourn the lives of the unnamed, the unknowable, the uncountable. I am an alum who came to the Academy at a time when the country from which my parents emigrated was being terrorized by America. My parents were among the privileged. While technically refugees, their connections and wealth enabled them to relocate to America, continue their schooling, and establish a life here. They granted me a life imbued with the social and monetary capital that let me go to Andover and be comfortable while in attendance. Yet the dearth of space to acknowledge and mourn the loss of a homeland induced its own kind of trauma.

What’s more: I witnessed the valorization of American soldiers who had waged war in Afghanistan, with no acknowledgment of the other casualties, be it people, land, or culture, of that war. It is but for a quirk of history that I am not one of those casualties.[d]

I just graduated from an elite, residential college whose attitude toward landscapes and memory, in contrast to Andover’s, is one of subtlety. My college campus did not inundate me with memorials of soldiers and white people like my high-school one did. It is only upon graduating that I have come to understand the notion of erasure by selectivity. Andover honor some things and not others, and something is lost in the difference. Let us even the scales of memory, then, and honor the victims of wars waged by a nation with no end other than hegemony in sight, the multitude who have lost their homes and lives and liberties at the expense of an American myth.

We are told that the end depends upon the beginning, but this should not — does not — only apply to those whom we extol. Taken at its meaning, our motto implies a type of determinism that demands a reckoning, an acknowledgement that our alumni do not always do good things, and that what they do depends upon their beginnings.

Many of our national tensions and anxieties stem from the unwillingness of the privileged to admit to causing harm to those they victimize. I am thinking of Brett Kavanaugh here, but also now of Michael Bloomberg, and of course, of Donald Trump: people — usually men — who live by the belief that to seek penance is to admit defeat.

Many of the deaths included in the innumerable toll above are at the hands of alumni, and I am not referencing the soldiers. In the “The Afghanistan Papers,” a startling investigation recently published by The Washington Post, Craig Whitlock highlights how Presidents W. Bush, Obama, and Trump misled the public about America’s political failings in Afghanistan, and how many people — Afghans and Americans — died as a result. The perennial joke of an election year is: “How will we pay for it?” To this question, asked about this war memorial, I’d say: “Easy, let’s ask President Bush to do it.”

A central component of growing into adulthood — and traditional notions of manhood — is being able to apologize: thoroughly, sincerely. Seeking penance and striving toward redress are fundamental parts of the many religions Andover celebrates, including the Protestantism of the school’s roots and the Methodism of President Bush’s own faith.

If the end really depends upon the beginning, then we have some work to do. Andover is no longer a school of all white-American men, home-coming war heroes. Coming to terms with pluralism necessitates re-writing our landscapes: having white students walk paths that acknowledge the existence of other, marginalized races, and allowing non-white students to walk paths that give them validation, comfort, and safety.

A public, visible mourning of our nation’s victims might cause future students to view differently the costs of war or the lives of people unlike them. So let’s do it. Let a new beginning induce better ends[e].