Saturday, May 29, 2010

War and Memory

Memorial Day, 1970: I was soldier in Vietnam. By 1970, almost 48,000 American soldiers had been killed. Anti-war protests were wide-spread and growing in number as the protesters were attempting to wake up the nation and stop the war.

Memorial Day, 2010: 4404 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq; 1000 Americans have died in Afghanistan. And the nation sleeps.

This Memorial Day, politicians across the country will spout words about heroes, sacrifice, and patriotism, then return to their divisive partisan politics while the American occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan continues on its bloody way. This Memorial Day will be just another way for businesses to lure shoppers into their stores for “Memorial Day discounts.” Some will advertise discounts in “honor” of those who have given their lives. How does shopping “honor” a soldier? As soldiers in Afghanistan have said “We’re fighting a war while America is at the mall.”

The root of “memorial” means “memory,” and “preserving remembrance.” It is right and fitting that we celebrate those who fight, and have fought, for our nation. But if Memorial Day is only a momentary look at our past, then it is worth little. If the celebrations do not cause us to consider, and question, the actions of our government and how our soldiers are currently being used, then they mean no more than the smoke that disappears in the aftermath of an IED explosion.

“So,” you might ask, “what is the best way to support the troops?” Do what you can to first rouse yourself, then wake up our sleeping nation. Must we be fighting an endless war (as the Bush administration liked to call it)? How many more of our sons and daughters in uniform must die before, as in Vietnam, we say “enough” and withdraw our troops?

I believe the best way to support our troops is to bring them home. But whatever your answer might be, don’t forget them or their families now or after they come home. Coming home is hard. A soldier returning from a war zone faces tensions and conflicts as he or she tries to move back into civilian life. But the new veteran has to learn that there is no going back; war changes those who fight, and life changes those who wait for the soldier’s return.

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