Memorial Day 2008
Most of the Memorial Day posts I’ve been reading today go something like this: “Remember the great sacrifice these brave men and women made defending our country”. And a few have tacked on; “And the Democrats are big cowards and ninnies so remember to vote for McCain.”
Well first of all it is important to remember and honor the sacrifice of our soldiers. That’s the whole point of the day. But the question is how? You can go put flowers on graves, you can write blog posts remembering some specific brave veteran, or you could attend any of a number of services marking this day. All good.
But how about the rest of the time? The other 364 days? There are a lot of people out there who seem to feel that we can best acknowledge the sacrifice to honor and country, by never questioning either. By following our leaders blindly into every conflict that they point to (almost always from the safety of a news conference in Washington) and yell “Charge!”
I understand being so invested in a course of action that you can’t bear to question it, but we have a responsibility to question it, no matter how painful that might be. We’ve invaded and intervened in so many countries over the years that it’s easy to forget other countries don’t always see us as a benign force in the world. They can make a good case for ‘America as aggressor’ and it’s dangerous to dismiss that point of view on the basis that it isn’t how we see ourselves.
This in no way denigrates the honor of the men and women who served in our military; quite the contrary. None of them made the decision to bomb or invade or intervene in another country. They put on the uniform and put their lives on the line, trusting that our country was right. To betray that trust by failing to consider if the action truly is right does indeed dishonor our troops.
The other countries are not apt to overlook the 100-to-1 kill ratio of our armed forces. In itself that is just effective soldiering but to them it looks like slaughter. And if you unleash slaughter, you’d better be right. There is a saying that when you fire a gun, you are responsible for everything the bullet does until it comes to a full and complete stop.
The same is true of military actions, whatever you call them. When you pull that trigger, you (meaning we) are responsible for everything that war does until it comes to a full and complete stop. And wars sometimes go on for decades, up in the hills, long after we’ve left.
We have an entire news network devoted to rationalizing our wars. We have emotional appeals and videos on YouTube connecting 9/11 to any damn place we might want to invade whether they had anything to do with it or not. We have a president who paints the world with “You’re either with us or against us”. We have “freedom fries”.
What we don’t have, apparently, is the self-confidence to examine our own motives. It’s as if we’re afraid of what we might find. And while our soldiers face death in the streets of some scorching hellhole, we could at least muster up the courage to look in the mirror. Because we’re not saints, and our motives are not always pure. We let ourselves be deceived at every turn. It’s a long-standing pattern for us. We’re all about “Full steam ahead” and damn the consequences.
If somebody had been watching out for icebergs the Titanic would have had a much longer run as a cruise ship. It would be very pro-Titanic to say “iceberg ahead! Change course!” And likewise we can honor our troops and their sacrifice by recognizing that it is pro-American to watch where the hell we are going.