There is no greater honor to be paid those who willingly go into harm's way for America than to make sure they never do so for anything but the best of reasons. This is our collective responsibility as members of a democracy, and our individual responsibility as Americans.
“In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.” – Jose Narosky
Battlefield medical care has increased in efficiency enough that the number of dead we memorialize on this holiday is dwarfed by the number who return wounded. Though our country owes these wounded warriors an immense debt of gratitude it is not them who we recognize on Memorial Day. We recognize those whose lives were prematurely ended by the violence of war.
Recently the Veteran’s Administration distributed over 13,000 notices of potentially life-threatening infections caused by what sounds like gross negligence. What level of respect does it communicate to a person who has volunteered to go into harms way for them to receive a notice that they are HIV positive because a VA gastroenterologist did not have his colonoscopy snake properly cleaned of the fecal material from a previous patient? Should we reserve a special portion of our Memorial Day services for apologies to those that died due to American negligence?
"In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger." – John F. Kennedy
Though we can reflect on our adversaries in our current wars to find worthy justifications to honor our recent war dead it has never been the evil of our adversaries which truly motivates a democratic people to go to war. Americans speak of fighting for freedom. The members of our armed forces take an oath to defend our constitution. The Americans who fight oversees talk of returning to their American way of life. Americans at war hope to create a better future by destroying parts of the present that have become unacceptable.
"You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today." --Abraham Lincoln
War is rarely the best way of making a future. War is a terrible tool. Unfortunately, for some, it is an easy tool to use. There is no draft. Episodes of American Idol and Dancing with the stars are not interrupted by news of fighting in Afghanistan or Iraq. There is so little that we are forced to know.
Several days ago the US congress passed extensions to the Patriot Act. This law allows intrusions into the privacy of American citizens so that law enforcement groups can better ferret out potential terrorists. This can be done secretly. The Justice Department has officially issued legal opinions on what the legal limits are to the powers of intrusion granted by this law. The opinions are classified. We can't even find out what these changes to our democracy are, but we can send men and women into harm's way to protect them.
There have been rumors that protesters and pacifists are being targeted by investigations. It has been suggested that the discovery of information has been aided by features of the Patriot act. It would not be the first time that Americans in power have sought to facilitate the abuse of wartime powers by silencing discontent.
“Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.” – Hermann Goering
For the past several years I have heard more about President Obama's birth status than the warriors America is responsible for. There is no time or place for racism, stupidity, and the side effects of bad medication to masquerade as patriotism. Nationalism clouds our nation's sensibility.
This Memorial Day we will hear glowing odes to heroism and sacrifice. On this day the only testament the fallen need to give to pronounce the depth of their sacrifice has been written in their own blood. The glowing odes are more often about future votes than fallen heroes.
Today the living need to account for the need for these wars, and justify the sacrifices of those who gave everything.
"To truly honor fallen soldiers requires self-reflection, questions and action. We must reflect on our part in their deaths. Are we allowing the blood of soldiers and civilians to be spilled in war because we are not willing to do the hard work of peace making? Hard work that may mean we must change our lifestyles, consume less and learn more about the world around us. Are we prepared to take any responsibility for our nation’s relationships with other countries? Are we willing to question our government's foreign policies and demand a change from domination to collaboration? Are we willing to take action to change ourselves so that our personal behavior and attitude reflects peace making rather than acceptance of war?" – Michael T. McPhearson