May 31

What Our Fallen Soldiers Taught Us

by Sargent Shriver Peace Institute | 05/31/2021 12:19PM | Quote of the Week | Peacebuilding


Our Quote of the Week marks Memorial Day with a tribute to fallen soldiers and a reminder that we must work together to build a more peaceful world.

Speaking at a memorial service at Verdun1, France in 1968, Sargent Shriver reflected on the incalculable losses of war. During the speech, Sargent Shriver makes a poignant statement about the soldiers who died in the battle: "These men believed they were fighting the war to end all wars." He then adds that "it does them no dishonor to say they were wrong", and reminds the audience that later in the century the world would be plunged the other "holocaust" that was World War II.

What Sargent Shriver does not mention in the speech is that he knew the horrors of war from first-hand experience. In 1937, he spent time in Germany as part of the Experiment in International Living, where he met family members of people who had been imprisoned in the concentration camp at Buchenwald. Then, in 1940, he volunteered to join the US Navy and was stationed in the Pacific aboard the USS South Dakota, where he fought in the Battle of Guadalcanal. During the battle, Shriver witnessed the deaths of many of his shipmates, and he suffered injuries for which he would later be awarded the Purple Heart.

The horrors of war undoubtedly had a profound influence on Shriver, and fueled him as he pursued peacebuilding initiatives throughout his career. From his work on desegregation in Chicago in the 1950s, to his leaderhship in Peace Corps and on the War on Poverty in the 1960s, and through his diplomatic career and denuclearization efforts into the 1970s and beyond, Shriver would gravitate towards efforts to resolve conflict, increase unity and stability, and to build peace for the remainder of his days.

As we remember the US soldiers who perished in war today, let us commit to building peace wherever and however we can. The cost of war is simply too high to bear.

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1The Battle of Verdun was one of the longest and bloodiest battles of World War I, Iasting over 300 days and resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths, including 127 US volunteer soldiers.

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