May 26, 2007

To All Our Soldiers: Thank You

A colleague is in deep mourning. Her son died two weeks ago in Iraq. His father died in Vietnam. This son was their only child. I cannot imagine the pain and anguish she is going through.

My mother's best friend lost her youngest son in Vietnam. He did not believe in killing, so he went to Vietnam as a medic because they did not carry weapons. He was killed from shrapnel during his second week of duty, tending a fallen comrade. Although he died in early '71, she still mourns him daily.

Seven years ago I stood in the immaculate American Cemetery in Normandy. I was inexplicably alone, standing amidst the thousands of white crosses arranged in neat tidy rows, each bearing the name of a soldier who died on or near D-Day, most of them young men in their prime. The scene was surreal, with the sun shining brightly, waves crashing against an adjacent shore, and a constant breeze soughing through tall pines. The sound was eerie, as if the pines were crying and the ocean was bashing itself on the rocks from grief.

It was one of the few times that I felt totally in the moment. I couldn't help my tears from falling and I cried unashamedly for these soldiers whose ultimate sacrifice saved the world from Hitler and his evil thugs. These beautiful young men never got to fulfill their life's dreams or their full potential. War is such a senseless waste, but at least this one had the support of an entire league of nations.

In past wars, much of the American populace was asked to make personal sacrifices. In World War II, families made do without certain luxuries or resigned themselves to receiving ration cards for meat or nylons, or gas and new tires for their cars. Our grandparents and parents tended Victory gardens, and turned their lights off early, and bought savings bonds to support the war.

During the height of the Vietnam War, a nationwide lottery ensured that there would be enough soldiers (from all walks of life) to fight that war. Unless there were extraordinary circumstances (or luck or influence or entry into college), every family with a young man of fighting age knew that there was a chance their son might be called up. Americans were sacrificing together, whether they liked it or not. They didn't, and anti-war protests were a common and weekly occurrence back then. The youth of America and the liberal elite managed to topple an administration, and politics and news coverage haven't been the same since.

What sacrifices are the American people asked to make for this war? To pay for it, we are borrowing heavily from such countries as China, so our sacrifice will be deferred to a later generation or time. The cost of war counter that sits to the right of this post has shot up $5 billion since I placed it on my blog two weeks ago. Five billion. My mind cannot wrap itself around such an enormous sum, much less the billions more that this conflict will cost us.

Men and women are dying abroad, and yet we are living in an era of unprecedented prosperity. Yes, our gas prices are rising to the roof, but, hey, for the time being this just means we will have to make a choice to forego a luxury or two. Perhaps a little further down the road we might truly start to pay, but by that time this presidential administration's tenure will be over.

What's worse than our delayed sacrifice is that our soldiers are fighting in relative obscurity. Rosie's petty bickering with Elizabeth Hasselbeck on The View, and her firing received more coverage than the day's horrific events in Iraq. How crazy is that?

Even as FOX and CNN rush to cover Rosie's self-aggrandizing diatribe, our fallen soldiers are coming home in secret. No photos are allowed of their coffins, and we don't even get to honor them properly upon their return. Recently, the army restricted all soldiers from blogging, and many emails are censored. Our last link to what is really happening in Iraq from a soldier's perspective has been cut off. The photo of the crying soldier at the top of this post was taken off a blog that no longer exists. We must ask ourselves: How is this censorship benefiting us? These soldiers weren't revealing state secrets; they were just describing their experiences, as countless soldiers in countless wars have done in times past.

In addition, army bureaucracy is so cumbersome that it takes months to process our wounded soldiers before they can receive proper and continuing treatment. In some cases, the government goes out of the way to prove that an emotional trauma or physical injuries were not caused by a war wound. Huh? Isn't this the time to err on the side of humanity, not the nation's pocketbook? Isn't that the right thing to do? We're spending trillions of dollars on pork barrel issues and supporting the cronies who work for Halliburton. Let's reserve a few billion for our soldiers' care.

On this Memorial Day I honor all those brave young men and women who are asked to sacrifice so much for us. They do this in relative obscurity and in the face of the callous indifference of the Powers That Be. My heart goes out to their families, who live anxiously from day to day. Their sacrifice is huge, while mine barely registers. It has become popular to say: I hate this war, but I love the soldiers. I am one of the people who says this, and because of this, my statement of love for the soldier is often dismissed as being self-serving and a mockery to the soldiers' beliefs and sacrifices.

That is far from the truth. Must I support a war effort that is seeping the life's blood from America simply to demonstrate that I am a loyal citizen? Must I pay fealty to an administration I do not support so that it will think of me as a Patriotic American? Can't I say with all feeling and true sincerity that while I abhor this war, I honor the soldier who is fighting for us, and that I am a good and caring citizen? Can't all three statements be true?

One can only hope that the next party in power will have the decency and guts to tell the American people that we must ALL pull together and sacrifice something important in order to end this horrendous conflict. I am so tired of demagogues, but even more so, I am appalled by the indifference to our soldiers' welfare that this administration has shown. (Lack of state of the art protection for the under carriages of jeeps and trucks, lack of proper fighting equipment and bullet proof vests, lack of proper furlough time, lack of soldiers, lack of strategic planning, lack of kept promises. Shall I go on?)

So, to all our soldiers: Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Without you, I would not live this cushy life in this beautiful land. And so, I honor you. May we, the citizens and our government, reward you and your families for the rest of your lives by freely - and without doubting your word - giving you the medical, emotional, monetary, and educational support you so richly deserve. My heart is filled with tears for your fallen comrades.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Even the skies weep for these brave men.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for honoring those men and women who have given the most for us.

And thank you for pointing out the nature of finanical costs, not just on us but on our children and grandchildren. In a sense, the dollar burden costs lives, too. Taxes decrease the safety of families simply by removing wealth. (Of course, some benefit comes back in increased safety.) The Iraq war might cost, say, 100,000 lives in taxes. Yet, as you have pointed out, some is deferred: the cost is in premature deaths of our children and grandchildren.

Of course, the risk to soldiers and the risk of Americans in terms of life is only one way to look at the cost of war in tradeoffs. I think it does provide insight. I wish we had elected folks in Washington who could understand the costs. I don't think anybody there can (except Ron Paul).

ArtfulSub said...

The blogosphere continues to amaze me. This was one beautiful heart-felt piece of writing with an over-looked but critically important central theme.

Had the second to last paragraph with it's references to "lack of bullet-proof vests etc..." been omitted, it would have been...


But, including it suggests the possibility that the leaders of the other major political party would sacrifice a pork-barrel project to provide such things.

That isn't the case. They won't sacrifice an ounce-of-pork for any soldier fighting anywhere. Including those fighting battles that their Pollsters tell them to support.

Memorial Day, as currently celebrated by most, sickens my soul.

The fact that I've sacrificed NOTHING since 9/11 shames me. The fact that Congressmen fight like scalded dogs to avoid sacrificing pork-barrel projects while soldiers die shames the Nation.


Big Fella said...

As a veteran of the Vietnam era, I stand alongside of, thank and honor my brothers and sisters serving our country today.

As a citizen I curse all of the politicians who either overtly or tacitly have allowed this war to come about and still allow it to chew up American and Iraqi citizens and destroy our nation in terms of lives ended or destroyed, in terms of costs to be incurred by our children, in terms of our standing in the world, and in terms of the loss of the protections of our constitution.

We all need to wake up, because not only has the political establishment prolonged the hostilities and suffering, but it is destroying our Army, our reserves and our National Guard and our ability to defend ourselves or to respond to disasters, either at home or on foreign shores. As is so clearly enunciated in an op ed piece by Lawrence J. Korb and Max A. Bergmann in the May 26 edition of the L.A. Times, is is time to reinstitute the draft, and face the truth.,0,7958579.story?coll=la-opinion-rightrail

Thanks for this posting ms place, it needs to be seen by many, many people.

Ms. Place said...

Thank you Anon, Art, and Big Fella, for your kind and thoughtful responses. Fruit for thought.

I am a first-generation American, having emigrated to this land when I was 8 years old. I love this country, and have embraced its customs and values with an eagerness and love that my parents and brother share. I vote in every election, no matter how small.

Memorial Day and July 4th are the two most meaningful holidays to me. I simply cannot be snarky on those days.

Marius said...

Great post! I couldn’t agree more. And it’s a shame that some people feel the need to support a war (and a party) simply to prove that they’re patriotic. Rubbish! I doubt our founding fathers envisioned a nation devoid of alternative (dissenting) voices when they established the guiding principles and values of this country. We must keep each other in check in a civilized manner, of course. Your comment about treating soldiers with respect is an important one. It is a shame that veterans and soldiers don’t get the treatment they deserve. And to add insult to injury, problems with the VA hospital system were recently exposed by the media. We really need to reconsider a lot of things.

Linda Merrill said...

I was at the American Cemetery in Normandy six years ago and it is very hard to describe the feeling that washes over you. From the sound of the surf hitting the beach far below to the chirping birds in the trees - the natural beauty is both comforting and awe inspiring. I was moved in a way that I couldn't describe. I took photos, but not of me in that place. It seemed almost disrespectful - the people taking each others' photos - a "Wish you were here" moment that seemed inappropriate to the setting.

War, although sometimes necessary, is never not terrible. Our country as a whole is trying to figure out how we feel about it. From the historical highs of WW2 (which many were against) to the lows of Vietnam. Our feelings and beliefs are both clarified and softened by the passage of time. I think we just don't know how to be a part of the current wars in Iraq and Afganistan, unless we have family members involved. We say we support the troops, but not what they have been asked to do. We lament that we're not all paying a price for this action, but the idea of a draft would be abhorrent. The reality is, we are paying a price - certainly financially - and also emotionally. Only time will really tell us whether this effort was an investment in future safety or a sad waste of American time, talent and treasure. We Americans like certainty and chafe against the strain of uncertainty. Once again, a reason to support our troops, and their willingness to stand up for us, no matter what we're feeling.

Damselfly said...

I love everything you have to say I won't go repeating what you've stated so elequently.

I would like to say that you should check out Rosie's blog. I think she would be the first person to agree with you about everything you've written here...including the ridiculous coverage her comments have recieved by a misdirected media.