Monday, May 28, 2007

Thoughts on Memorial Day

In years past, I wonder how many people saw Memorial Day as an opportunity for:

1. A three-day weekend
2. A chance to check out some holiday sales on washers, dryers, stereo equipment, and mattresses
3. An opportunity to go flying frisbees and eating sandwiches in the park

Memorial Day is one of those holidays where you can't help feeling a twinge of guilt. Weirdly enough, it's one of the few holidays--apart from Easter--meant to celebrate the deaths of people who made great sacrifices. Nobody feels guilty about celebrating Easter. Of course, that particular holiday is full of pagan symbols to make it more appealing to little kids. But Memorial Day is meant as a day to honor our country's fallen.

Like so many other people, I've been sleeping in late, biking, and going to the park as the days finally, at long last, feel like summer. But in the back of my head are these words: Iraq. Situation FUBAR. Walter Reed. Troops without body armor. Clueless chickenhawks. A war based on lies and nonsense. No end in sight. This Memorial Day is more somber than Memorial Days past--as it should be.

Every Memorial Day, until this Middle Eastern misadventure finally comes to an end, people should be required to read this sad, eloquent editorial which originally appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 2005.

Nothing young Americans can do in life is more honorable than offering themselves for the defense of their nation. It requires great selflessness and sacrifice, and quite possibly the forfeiture of life itself. On Memorial Day 2005, we gather to remember all those who gave us that ultimate gift. Because they are so fresh in our minds, those who have died in Iraq make a special claim on our thoughts and our prayers.

In exchange for our uniformed young people's willingness to offer the gift of their lives, civilian Americans owe them something important: It is our duty to ensure that they never are called to make that sacrifice unless it is truly necessary for the security of the country. In the case of Iraq, the American public has failed them; we did not prevent the Bush administration from spending their blood in an unnecessary war based on contrived concerns about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. President Bush and those around him lied, and the rest of us let them. Harsh? Yes. True? Also yes. Perhaps it happened because Americans, understandably, don't expect untruths from those in power. But that works better as an explanation than as an excuse....

As this bloody month of car bombs and American deaths -- the most since January -- comes to a close, as we gather in groups small and large to honor our war dead, let us all sing of their bravery and sacrifice. But let us also ask their forgiveness for sending them to a war that should never have happened. In the 1960s it was Vietnam. Today it is Iraq. Let us resolve to never, ever make this mistake again. Our young people are simply too precious.