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A non-veteran thinks about Memorial Day

May 30, 2005

Someone said that warfare is the failure of diplomacy.  I think about that a lot, because our history of warfare* is depressingly long.  Even more depressing is that – I know many people could not name five conflicts from that list.  Or ask one hundred people on the street which war was our most costly; you will receive at least fifty wrong answers or blank stares. 

The other day in a bookstore I saw a rap magazine with the cover story; Hip-Hop Murders: Why Haven’t We Learned Anything?””  On the cover were three young men in black funeral-attending suits, looking somberly into the camera from the foreground of what was obviously a military cemetery. 

It was a striking image, the three men framed by neat rows of identical white marble gravestones, one in front contrasting with their dark suits.  Since the unengraved side of the stone is showing,  it appears they were standing on the grave of an American soldier who died in combat.  The article breathlessly recalls the murders of three rap stars and accuses law enforcement of doing little to solve the crimes.

“Mixunit.com” opines: “This is a must-have issue for any rap fan.”

I have not served in the military, much less been in combat.  I have only imagination to help me understand, for example, the courage of the soldiers who climbed down the “spider hole” to apprehend Saddam Hussein.  That small event raised up into the light an alloy of humanity that is both common and precious.  And, which often is squandered by citizens and their leaders.

Our leaders are responsible to make sure the diplomatic work is truly done before young Americans have to place themselves on the line.  It is a responsibility too-often lost in lying, self-serving, partisan politics.  Only the complete absence of shame explains how some of them can sleep at night or show their faces in public.

In many cases this work should be proactive.  For example, if Germany were not forced after WWI into ruinous reparations, Hitler would never have been able to gain traction there.  In fact, many starry-eyed liberals opposed reparations for that reason, long before Hitler arrived on the scene.  But politicians pandering to voters’ heady sense of victory saw advantage in that pound of flesh.  The diplomatic work was not done and millions paid the price, including American soldiers who had to clean up the mess.

(Today we call the reconstructive approach a “Marshall plan.”  But after so many had died to confirm what the “liberals” predicted, Marshall was not branded a liberal for proposing it after WWII.)

Examples abound. US Support of Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and Manual Noriega come to mind – someone was not thinking ahead.  Or at least, someone was making compromises with American principles in the name of pragmatism, and the end result each time was war down the line.  The diplomatic work was not done and American soldiers, again, had to clean up the mess. 

But politicians do not operate in a vacuum.  They have to please a voting public whose imaginations are not empowered by knowledge and whose passions are wholly owned by consumer culture.

Today’s paper has an obligatory cartoon equating the Memorial day cookout with ingratitude to the soldier.  Having a cookout is not exclusive of gratitude but living ignorantly is. The citizen who does not try to understand our constitution, or to vote, or to know as much as he can about the world our superpower country engages, equally squanders the courage and honor of our soldiers. 

It is too bad that schools are closed on Memorial day.  Regular classes could be canceled in favor of special events: films, displays, and visiting veterans’ stories.

Barring special school days, (which I would always prefer over closing school for a day) at least we could take advantage of the wealth of literature by veterans.  The stories are important.  Readers, if you know some good ones online, link them in the comments below.

I’m typing slower now, so it must be time to stop.  To those of you who served or are serving in our military, THANK YOU.


* The list of conflicts on answers.com contains some armed conflicts that don’t involve our military.  If anyone knows a better list, I’d be happy to link it.

It might be a good thing if we held elections on Memorial day.

Categories: Politics
  1. May 30, 2005 at 11:09 | #1


    i agree with you on this memorial day. have you ever read _the things they carried_ or _going after cacciato_ by tim o’brien? excellent war novels, but much more than that too. i think that politicians who send troops overseas without first doing everything they can diplomatically have blood on their hands—and so do the people who profit from the war. take care!

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