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.