Today is Memorial Day, and I feel compelled to say something about it.
We’re in the middle of a horrible and pointless war. A war that we started, based on a bunch of lies. Since we did this, we have caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis, and thousands of American soldiers. And we did it for no reason.
As the situation has grown progressively worse, and more and more people have been maimed and killed, we’ve heard an endless drumbeat from Bush supporters: me must support the troops!
I support American soldiers. As the son of a WW2 veteran, I grew up with a lot of respect for soldiers. People who join the military voluntarily give up many of the freedoms that we take for granted, and allow themselves to be put into situations that people like me can’t even really begin to imagine. We ask the members of our military to go and put themselves into a situation where they have to pick up a weapon, point it at someone, and kill them in cold blood – because they’re a member of the enemy’s army. We ask them to put themselves into a position where other people are going to try to kill them. These are horrible things, things that most of us can’t even really contemplate. Because my father put himself into that situation many years ago, he understood what it meant, in a way that I can only imagine.
When soldiers go to war, they’re taught to dehumanize the enemy. They don’t do that because they’re bad people. They do that because they have to: normal people, sane people, can’t pick up a gun, look through its sights at another human being that they don’t know, and pull the trigger and watch them die. People put into that situation hesitate – and hesitation in battle costs lives. As horrible as that sounds to us sitting in our comfortable homes, that’s what must happen to create effective combat soldiers.
When we ask people to do that on our behalf, we take on a great responsibility. We are asking them to do terrible things, things that will, under the best of circumstances, leave deep emotional scars. What happens when we put them into the hell of war is our responsibility. When we send them to war, we are obligated to respect the kind of sacrifices that we ask them to make; to make sure that we only ask them to do it an a cause that’s truly worthy of the price that they will pay; and to care for them and their families after the war is over.
In this war, that hasn’t happened. We’ve asked people to kill and die for no good reason; and while doing it, we have consistently neglected the soldiers we put in harms way, and the families that they left behind.
Our president criticizes people who want to get our soldiers out of harms way as “not supporting the troops” – while opposing funding for medical care for soldiers, housing wounded people in rat-infested hell-holes, denying financial assistance to them and their families. He talk about sending people back into combat three and four times as “support”. He sends them to die, and never attends a funeral, never watches the coffins coming home, never takes any responsibility for the horrors he’s inflicted on them and their families. He works hard to oppose things as simple as funding medical care for returning soldiers. But people who fight him on that, he tars as “not supporting the troops”.
He’s given the orders to teach them them to torture people, given the orders to tell them to torture people, and them blamed them for doing it. The horrors that he has chosen to inflict on them are, in his eyes and the eyes of his supporters, unimportant. He feels no responsibility for what he’s made them do. He’s sent near-children to the front lines, and watched as they’re punished for following his orders, while pardoning – or even rewarding the people who created the policies and gave the orders.
We should honor and respect the people who make sacrifices for our country. Instead, we spit on them, and call it support.
Today is memorial day, the day when we are supposed to remember the people who gave their lives for our country. And instead of honoring them, we’re sending more of them to die for no good reason, in a phony pointless war. Honoring them means making sure that we never ask them to sacrifice themselves unless there is a real need. We deserve to be deeply ashamed of what we’ve permitted in our names. On this day when we honor them, we should be begging them for forgiveness, for what we made them give, and what we made them do.
And meanwhile, our president’s idea of celebrating memorial day is giving a five minute speech, and then rushing off to his barbecue.