Memorial Day, 2015. Speeches. Parades. Visits to military and civilian cemeteries . Or simple personal remembrances, in one’s home, or strolling alone in a park, warming a bar stool, still trying to sort it out, the how and the why.
I’ve been to Arlington National cemetery. I’ve watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown. Very somber. Regardless of where a member of our military killed in the line of duty eternally rests, these fallen are of equal status, if not equal rank. They gave their life to the United States of America as members of its military.
Depending on what military deployment into which each was sent to meet his or her ultimate fate, there is–in my mind, at least–the question of not just how they died, but most importantly where. And the “where” is something treated ceremonially as a virtual irrelevance. The praise for their service and sacrifice is expected, but the solemn observances preclude much of any specific deployment context. WWI. WWII. Korea. Vietnam. Gulf I. Gulf II. Afghanistan. Oh, there’s a lot of other deployments, historically, but who’s alive to remember much of what they were all about? Were they all that necessary in defending the American Way of Life?
If there’s a living veteran of WWI, he’d be somewhere in the 115 year-old range. Maybe there’s plenty of children of such veterans, and they’d be deep into their 80’s and 90’s, I suspect. A good friend of mine lost her WWII veteran father 18 months ago when he was 95. She is now 58. Do the math. Another twenty years and the oldest WWII vet will be lucky to be alive at 110 or so. Then the historians can chase their ghosts. The U.S. WWI fallen are currently pretty much a dusty abstraction of global warfare. It was fought. The USA saved its Democracy! If it was ever in jeopardy in the first place. We read about that “war to end all wars” and it’s reason for being fought, and somehow it never makes much sense–to me, anyway. Especially the U.S. participating in it for its second-half, as it were. Arch Duke Ferdinand is assassinated by a Serbian nationalist in 1914. The U.S. enters the fray in 1917. There are theories. Millions and millions and millions dead. 116,000 of them our soldiers. Want to read one scorching anti-war novel about WWI? Try Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo.
It was not the war to end all wars, obviously.
WWII. Now, that’s a no-brainer as to why the U.S. fought in it. Pear Harbor shocked us out of our “stay neutral” mind-set. The reality of the Axis powers intentions to invade and conquer, and not simply in Pacific/Asian or European spheres, became more dramatic and disturbing as that war went on. It started in 1939, and after Pearl, the Yanks were all-in by early 1942. This was, unequivocably, a war in which the ominous expression, “to the victors goes the spoils” was just waiting for an outcome.
And the Allies prevailed. Over 400,000 American casualties and somewhere in the range of 60,000,000 dead combatants altogether.
World War Two. Somehow, on this and any other Memorial Days, we Americans must realize that if the Allies had lost to Germany and Japan, our way of life would not be the same in its aftermath. What? Hitler and Hirohito were going to provide their version of a Marshall Plan for the U.S. of A? I think not. It’s hard to imagine what a twisted new world order was awaiting humankind if our side didn’t get that Ultimate Weapon first, or that the Allied armies (especially the Red Army) didn’t crush the Third Reich in order to finally push Japan into the Hiroshima showdown. One Nagasaki nuking a few days after Hiroshima’s mushroom shaped holocaust failed to bring Japan to its knees and victory for the Allied Armies was assured.
Nothing since comes close to what was at stake for the U.S. and the world-at-large.
So, while we salute all of the fallen , in all of the wars in which Memorial Day seeks to honor, this son of a WWII vet, and Vietnam era veteran himself, always finds something disingenuous about what I feel is the exploitation of one-size fits-all patriotic bombast about certain of the unfortunate casualties of post-WWII deployments. After all, I served (drafted) as part of the several million men who were in uniform during 10 years of the Vietnam conflict. My fellow Vietnam era vets now have the dubious distinction of being part of a deployment in which our military and political leaders decided to finally declare defeat! and simply bring the surviving troops home. To the victor went the spoils? Hardly. Remind me again, why did we deploy to Vietnam? What, exactly was on the line? The Pentagon’s pride? The military contractor’s bottom-line? Other than for those American service personnel who fought and died, or were seriously wounded, there was virtually no blowback to our national security or way of life. That’s not theory, either.
Gulf I and II? Iraq? Ten years and we declare what? Futility, and bail out. Now we have ISIS as a result of the vacuum left there. 13 years and counting in Afghanistan. Why are we still there? It’s a drone war now, in many ways, so I guess we’re there and not there all at once. Isn’t it time to cut and run as in Iraq? Oh, right. “Either we fight them there or we fight them here.” That was the Bush II rallying cry. Be afraid, be very afraid!
Naturally, we have fallen and wounded heroes from all wars. They answered a call to duty, but not since the Second World War should that call to action ever have been made. If only our military and political “leaders” would stop victimizing those who volunteer to serve by sending some of them to premature graves for deployments that inherently have no truly profound military/national security downside, as in our way of life somehow being threatened. Yes, it’s a fearful world full of terror threats, so bulk up our borders, and have our warriors on alert within our borders. Stop sending them into no-win strategies in far-flung regions looking for a threat that, over the past 25 years, has resulted in not much to celebrate, other than in those ceremonies honoring the inevitable casualties of war.
We regret all of their their passing on this and future Memorial Days. Sadly, it’s difficult to understand why, since 1945, so many were where they needn’t ever have been at all.