People often complain (justifiably) that Americans fail to remember the meaning of major holidays. We're too busy buying seasonally-themed candy, tacky decorations, and expensive gifts. I think also-ran, non-gifting holidays get it even worse. How much time do you spend on Labor Day thinking about the sacrifices people made to improve our working conditions? You don't. We don't. Likewise, Memorial Day is about camping and driving and cook-outs and the Indy 500. I'd be surprised if half the country could even describe what this holiday is intended to mean.
At absolute random, I plucked one of the 4,080 (and counting) U.S. military deaths off of the official coalition casualty list. This is Jose Paniagua-Morales. He died on March 7, 2008 from blunt trauma and blood loss after his vehicle was attacked with a roadside bomb in Samarra, Iraq. He was a 22 year-old from Bell Gardens, California. He had been in Iraq less than a month. Jose and a lot of other human beings appear in our discussions about political issues as numbers or abstract ideas, in stories about "casualties" or "surges" or terrorism. Conceiving of reality as a sterile statistic is intended to make it easier on the suburban TV-watching public. "2 killed in roadside attack" goes down a lot more smoothly than reality, which boils down to this: Jose Paniagua-Morales was somebody's neighbor, somebody's friend, somebody's son, and a guy on the bus to the rest of us. There's nothing unique about him. He was a person who did what he was asked to do and succumbed to the inherent dangers of the task. But he had a life and a story, like 4079 other Americans, 176 Brits, 33 Italians, 23 Poles, 18 Ukranians, approximately 40 people from other Coalition countries, and somewhere between 90,000 – 150,000 Iraqi civilians and combatants.
Today's a good day to remind ourselves that we're sitting in our comfortable homes talking in abstract terms about war while, a world away, lives are being lost or ruined on a daily basis. That those lives rarely have a face or name is an unfortunate manifestation of our society's inability to deal with guilt or accept responsibility for our decisions. We cope by overcompensating and making angels out of the dead. I don't think that "honors" anyone's memory. Jose might have been a great guy. He might have been a jerk. My guess would be that he is like all of us – a lot of people loved him and some people didn't like him much. That's life. What's important is that, regardless of what role he played in the lives of people who knew him, he won't be playing it any longer.