Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day 2007

(I'm repeating myself, because I've cannibalized this post already today. So be it.)

If ever there was any doubt Santayana was right, this episode of This American Life would dispel it.

Not only were we warned about what would happen if we invaded Iraq, we had history as our teacher. Every schoolchild knows that World War I simply bled over into World War II. You may not know (I didn't!) that we occupied Germany after World War I. You won't be surprised, given Hitler's rise to power (often blamed on the way Germany was treated after that war) that the occupation was a disaster. Supposedly we learned that lesson, and did a better job rebuilding Germany the second time. But we've been resting on those laurels ever since.

So now our Vice President continues to demonize the very forces we were warned we would unleash, which is the very definition of denying responsibility for your actions. Perhaps he should spend more time in Iraq:

"I thought, 'What are we doing here? Why are we still here?' " said Safstrom, a member of Delta Company of the 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry, 82nd Airborne Division. "We're helping guys that are trying to kill us. We help them in the day. They turn around at night and try to kill us."

His views are echoed by most of his fellow soldiers in Delta Company, renowned for its aggressiveness.

A small minority of Delta Company soldiers - the younger, more recent enlistees in particular - seem to still wholeheartedly support the war. Others are ambivalent, torn between fear of losing more friends in battle, longing for their families and a desire to complete their mission.

With few reliable surveys of soldiers' attitudes, it is impossible to simply extrapolate from the small number of soldiers in Delta Company. But in interviews with more than a dozen soldiers over a one-week period, most said they were disillusioned by repeated deployments, by what they saw as the abysmal performance of Iraqi security forces and by a conflict that they considered a civil war, one they had no ability to stop.
Memorial Day, of course, didn't start as a day to honor veterans who "died for our freedom." Ironic, because the last war fought "for our freedom" before WWII, was the Civil War. We had a lot of wars in the 19th century, most of which we ignore: the Spanish American War, the Mexican War, the war in the Philippines, the war in Panama, all the imperialist efforts Mark Twain decried and Henry Thoreau protested. Memorial Day was not a day to remember we'd won our freedom at the expense of others; it was a day simply to remember dead family members, those who had died in the Civil War. Now we extrapolate the concrete reality into an abstraction: "they" died for "our freedom."

Bollocks. Our freedom wasn't threatened in Vietnam, or Korea, in the Persian Gulf, either time we fought there in the last 20 years. It wasn't threatened by the sinking of the Maine or in the Philippines, either. It was threatened in the Civil War, and Memorial Day came from that conflict. Memorial Day is simply a day to honor the dead. Perhaps we would better to limit it to the dead we know, and if we don't know any war dead, to be respectful of those who do. Perhaps we would do better to remember the uncut hair of graves, and to visit a graveyard and remember these dead were once as young and fair as you, or me. Perhaps we would do better to simply remember Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, and let it go at that. We can certainly do better than to continue the slaughter:

To Sergeant O’Flarity, the Iraqi security forces are militias beholden to local leaders, not the Iraqi government. “Half of the Iraqi security forces are insurgents,” he said.

As for his views on the war, Sergeant O’Flarity said, “I don’t believe we should be here in the middle of a civil war.”

“We’ve all lost friends over here,” he said. “Most of us don’t know what we’re fighting for anymore. We’re serving our country and friends, but the only reason we go out every day is for each other.”

“I don’t want any more of my guys to get hurt or die,” he continued. “If it was something I felt righteous about, maybe. But for this country and this conflict, no, it’s not worth it.”
Call the names. Call the names. Call the names.

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