Contining an annual tradition here at ginandtacos…
To the extent that anyone in this country actually observes Memorial Day it is to express the kind of "patriotism" that more closely resembles sitting in the end zone seats at college football games than love or respect for one's country. You know the type. They wave their plastic flags from Wal-Mart, loudly holding court about the Honor and Bravery of the military (which they totally would have joined if not for their flat feet and bad back) while piss drunk and badly straining the structural integrity of a lawn chair. Perhaps later they will retire to the den and watch a Wings marathon on the Military Channel. Their gravy-stained t-shirt is almost certain to bear the image of an eagle. This is the American Patroit, a creature which resembles actual patriotic citizenship as closely as the drunken, combative fratboy at a sports bar represents actual masculinity.
Memorial Day is about remembering people who died. Not "for our freedom" or "to protect our way of life" or any other slogan that flies off the lips of talk radio hosts and adorns Hallmark cards. It is about remembering the people who died in service of their country and what we gained as a nation by their lives, deaths, and service. The American Patriot can only learn one lesson from these deaths. The rest of us can learn many. Some deaths remind us of the tremendous sacrifices made by those with the courage to oppose inhumanity. Others remind us of the human costs of political misadventures. Their names and faces force us to remember that war is terrible and decisions made in the voting booth or halls of government put real people in harm's way.
This is Pfc. Samantha W. Huff of Tucson, Arizona. On April 17, 2005 a makeshift bomb detonated as she performed routine patrol duty in Baghdad.
The explosion tore off her left leg and she bled to death before her fellow soldiers could get her to a medical facility. She was 18 years old. She intended to go to college and become an FBI agent after serving in the Army. That won't happen now.
We owe it to the dead we claim to honor to ask why and how they were asked to put their lives in jeopardy and what we gained as a nation in return for their ultimate sacrifices. There will always be Americans brave enough to serve when asked to do so. But their willingness to do a dangerous task does not mean they are expendable or that they should be asked to risk their lives lightly. The decisions we make in the political world and as a society affect real people – our friends, neighbors, classmates, children, parents, and strangers on the bus.
Memorial Day is about more than simply remembering that some of them die – it's about remembering that you and I both bear responsibility for the fact that Samantha W.
Huff isn't going to college. We bear responsibility for the 4,618 coalition soldiers – 4,300 American – and 100,000-150,000 Iraqi civilians who have died as the end result of the workings of our political and electoral process.
Anyone unprepared to look at each picture and ask "Was this death worth it? Did we gain something valuable in exchange for taking a child away from parents, a husband away from a wife, a mother away from her kids?" has an incomplete and somewhat immature notion of patriotism and honoring those who served.
14 thoughts on “NO HOLIDAY '09”
Thank you. Just…thank you.
Well said. It seems that the only patriotism recognized by the right is actually jingoism- and I would argue that jingoism is not patriotism at all. It is just the opposite.
Well put, Ed.
J. Dryden says:
I found myself fulminating yesterday about Walter Reed, and how Memorial Day ought to remind us not only of those who died, but those who gave their lives in the sense of their bodies, their rest-of-their-lives health, in service. Deaths are, increasingly, only the tip of the iceberg in terms of casualties, medical science enabling us to get our servicemen and women home alive but terribly wounded. At which point…yeah, exactly. We might do more to honor the dead by taking better care of those who served with them.
Absolutely terrific post.
Not that I expect any different here, but this was really some fine work.
Jimmy Powell says:
Blaine, Millions have died during the course of building the United States strong enough to help other people around the world fight against oppression. This young lady was a beautiful person and was there doing what she believed was right. In my opinion, it is disrespectful to all that are protecting us from a bunch of murdering ignorant men whose purpose is to keep women and children from freedoms and education…to play politics in print. War sucks. I wish we were not there, but we are. Blaine, if you want to play politics, then join in with all the idiot self-serving politicians at the local, state and national level and do something about it in person, not on Facebook.
However, in all fairness to the view many have of jingoism, former President Bush did go after Sadaam purely because Hussein tried to assassinate his Dad. This in my opinion was a stupid reason to start a war, period. Face it, we're going to continue fighting extremist factions for the rest of our lives at least until one of them sets off a nuclear bomb in Israel. Israel is going to defend itself to try and stop it so unfortunately all this killing is bound to escalate. It has been going on in that region since the Pope’s in Rome sent in Templars to capture Jerusalem, all in the name of Christianity. No wonder Arabs uniformly hate us.
Any sane person is surely for bringing our troops home as soon as possible, but until then, we refuse to dishonor those who have died trying to stop every last one of the heroin growing chauvinist oppressors in that region or elsewhere…AND I will not use the death of this young lady to further a extreme political view from either direction on Facebook. As far as I am concerned, our Congress and Presidents all the way back to Regan have let us down by not trying to help educate Afghanis how to live beyond growing the infamous Opium Poppy. We blew a perfect opportunity on Regan’s watch by not listening to fun loving Rep. Charlie Wison. Now we are paying for it in spades. War sucks but the alternative is worse and I have not, nor will I ever forget 911 or suicide bombers killing innocent civilians whether they be in Israel, Indonesia, Iraq or here. The Republicans got greedy and the Dems are almost as bad. Throw em all out including the Left and elect sane one term moderate citizens, not more greedy professional politicians.
On this Memorial, I choose to honor all who shed their blood for your right to gripe about the stupidity of our political leadership whether you be liberal left or ultra conservative right. If anyone who reads this thinks for a second that our liberty came without tremendous sacrifice of blood , sweat and tears, then read the book by Tom Brokaw entitled, "The Greatest Generation", and you'll surely be more respectful of the Free World's fallen heroes. No offense intended.
They are Afghans not Afghanis. An Afghani is their form of currency.
Quite possibly the best commentary on Memorial Day that I have read in a long time. Thank you Ed.
I hear a lot about Servicemen and women who lay down their lives to protect the freedoms of the American people, the American way of life. Many of us enlisted for just that reason. These ideals become surprisingly hollow after you've been to Iraq or Afghanistan. Privately, we don't all agree with why we are there anymore- military personnel are as divided over this issue as our civilian friends are. Years of mismanagement from the previous administration grew the divide. But at the end of the day, what keeps us coming back for more, reenlisting, volunteering for deployments, and leaving our loved ones half way across the planet are the people who were always there for us during the most difficult times – our military family.
The truth about the fallen is that they didn't die to fulfill some glorious notion of spreading freedom. There is no glory in death, just indignity and emptiness.
So while the rest of America spends a couple of days every year waving its flags and celebrating the fallen in the "name of freedom," we just want to spend time with our units and families and give thanks for those who made it home alive. For us, every day is a Memorial Day: the lives we have taken and the friends we have lost will weigh heavy on our souls for the rest of our lives.
SSG Mark Baldry
United States Army
I think you are talking about Nationalists, not patriots. Back in the Viet Nam era, there was a lot of "America, love it or leave it" rhetoric flying around – especially from those nationalistic "greatest generation" guys, who, by the way, were a bunch of drunks. The stock answer was "America – love it and help make it better." Isn't that was a patriot would try to do?
The inability to distinguish between patriotism and nationalism is what leads people like Jimmy Powell to spout his kind of rant – a few kernels of truth planted in a mound of American-exceptionalist bullshit. Jimmy, those in the middle east and central Asia who hate the west, do so because we've been fucking with them since at least the time of Alexander the Great. And to a very large extent, it's now about the oil.
Ed – my one quibble with this post is that neither you nor I bear the slightest shred of responsibility for what happened to Private Huff, nor to any other casualty of these wars. This, again, is a Viet Nam era trope. Don't buy it. I am no more responsible for Me Lai, and other actions of U.S military, than I am for the egregiously misplaced policies of the Bush administration.
@Jimmy Powell — who is "The Left" that you speak of so pejoratively? Always with the evil straw men from your type. Realpolitik is simply an excuse for the US to project power & intimidate. And straw men make it easier to demonize your enemies and attack them rather than talk with them & attempt to find some common ground. But of course only pussies want to talk. So long as our leaders view martial force as an equally valid response to a perceived threat rather than as a desperate last resort we'll always find ourselves engaged in combat somewhere.
Aslan Maskhadov says:
Jimmy, did it ever occur to you that Afghanistan once had a real, progressive government? It was called the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan- but the US decided that it was more important to say fuck you to the Soviet Union than let those people be. Now look at the results.
Long time reader, but I've only posted once or twice.
As a soldier, SSG Baldry nailed it with his post. None of us give a rat's ass about "freedom" and "patriotism" when we're getting shot at. All we give a fuck about is the guy to my three o'clock and nine o'clock. We are but faceless numbers to the government; but to the people of the nation we are your brothers, your fathers, your sisters, your family.
That's why the onus is on the people of the United States to quit blindly waving their flags and start using their voices. Our lives are here for the nation, but I'd rather lose my life defending it than being used as a pawn in a political game.
SGT Thomas Glover
You focus on Iraq, and succinctly juxtapose it with more noble ends here:
"Some deaths remind us of the tremendous sacrifices made by those with the courage to oppose inhumanity. Others remind us of the human costs of political misadventures."
And yet, I've seen more nobility in Iraq than anywhere else in my life, at the personal and strategic levels. It is the left's incapability to form a judgment distinct from the initial disapproval of the decision to invade that set these blinders. This has caused otherwise rational humanists to advocate ending the war, even though American withdrawal without stability would preface genocide that made 2006's sectarian bloodletting look like summer camp.
Broadening the scope, I have two friends/acquaintances who have died in the current wars. One, a green beret, died in Afghanistan. He did believe in freedom and country, and was probably romantic enough to sincerely claim he would die for them. He also died living a life of adventure, making friends (American and foreign), and "killing bad guys." His life and death did not lack purpose.
The other died in Fallujah, during the last gasp in violence there before the city was (actually) pacified in the past two years. I saw the city at the beginning of his last tour and 4 months after his death. The change was astounding. Aside from basic security, fewer IEDs and gunfights, the populace had been finally liberated from the grip of the blood-chilling murder and intimidation campaign of the insurgents, who poisoned everything – everything – with fear of grisly death, from public office to carpentry work.
He helped make this happen. And when I met his parents, I told them that their son died successfully liberating a city from fear and violence. And he did. He wasn't "a victim of Bush's war", he was a young man who fought and died with purpose. Something else to remember on Memorial Day.
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