Today is the day we are suppose to spend celebrating the lives of those who died defending our country. I have to warn you that I am not in a reverent mood as I said goodbye to one of my best friends on Friday and then woke up Sunday to find that my nephew had suddenly passed away. Death steals from us those we hold dear and I rail against it. But it does make life so very precious and it gives new meaning to living each day to the fullest.
So with that in mind, I have some irreverent thoughts about some of the images I am seeing today and the words we are saying that have no meaning. First of course is the crass political use of the day. Sarah Palin is riding on the back of motorcycle to use the celebration to promote her face and increase her earning power. This is not a partisan thing, they all do it. Think about how we glorify war so we can sacrifice more men and women to the alter of battle. But in more mundane ways we see the veterans wearing their vests with the buttons and medals, and this is their day to be somebody. Was the the high point of their lives? Was there something special about the war experience that makes you a man/women? Is this some sort of right of passage? If so, why do so many commit suicide or spend their lives with PTSD?
Then there is the, “He/She died defending liberty and freedom”. Really? Did the 58,000+ names that are on the Vietnam War Memorial defend liberty or did they die in another frivolous military adventure? Remember we lost that one. But we did get all those WMD out of Iraq, right? Anybody really think fighting in a civil war in Afghanistan is making the world safe for Democracy? If they did, wouldn’t they be willing to sacrifice more instead of paying for it by borrowing money and putting the whole load on a voluntary military that keeps getting recycled into the war zone?
I am not trying to lessen the sacrifice made by those who take up arms when their country asks them. They paid the ultimate price for their love of country and sense of duty. But I am trying to point out that to ask our citizens to make this sacrifice, we should set the bar very high. Instead what I see is a society that uses war and the glorification of war for many less noble purposes, including political and personal aggrandizement, war profiting (one of the largest industry in the country), and ideological/religious agendas. We say they are defending liberty when the reality is the war itself is trampling on it. In honor of those who have paid the ultimate price, we should question those who seem to wallow in it. It is a day for reflection, not celebration. War takes a horrific toll on our claim to be human and civilized.
I was asked once to speak to a group of high school youngsters about my experience in the Vietnam War. I wanted them to understand what society is really asking of them and the questions they should be asking before they embark down war’s dark road, instead of some right of passage to true wisdom and meaning in the world. So I asked how many had been to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington and looked at those 58,000 plus names carved into cold granite who would not ever again feel the sun on their face, smell the ocean, or hold their love ones close to them.
Then I said, “Turn left and look down the Mall toward the Lincoln Memorial, where President Lincoln fought a war that on one weekend in Gettysburg killed as many as were on that wall before you. One war and the sacrifice was to keep the nation whole, and the other was for what? We need to ask these hard questions and look deeply into motives before we sacrifice what is most dear to us. It is not about what movies and TV tells us it’s about.”
This day should not be about glorifying war, but looking into the depths of our souls to make sure that when we ask for this sacrifice, it is truly worth it All their lives are so very precious and what I see around me today is a very cavalier and hypocritical attitude when we ask for this sacrifice . Or said another way, not everyone in a uniform is a hero and maybe we should be asking ourselves how these attitudes facilitates war instead of respecting those who fight them and die for us by asking if what we are asking of them is really defending liberty.