Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Ultimate Sacrifice

With this year's Memorial Day now under our belts, I figured it was high time to write about one of the things that really bothers me about our "patriotic" holidays: that is, the concept that we, the citizens of these United States, need to be unquestioning in our allegiance to certain ideas. The idea of Memorial Day (originally Decoration Day - see Wikipedia for full details) is to "commemorate U.S. men and women who have died in military service" to the U.S.A. This is a good idea...a solid idea, especially for someone like me, who cannot abide the thought of actually having to SERVE in the military, yet enjoys the freedoms of our country that those in the military have sought to protect over the last two centuries. Like, the freedom to publish this blog, which is critical of our current federal administration.

The problem I have with the sort of modern-day interpretation we now face stems from the rah-rah, post-9/11 pseudo-patriotism that seems to quell any questioning of "service to our country." I'm not generally an aggressive person, but I can get on board with the thought that, occasionally, it's time to set aside the worthwhile notion of non-violence and, frankly, kick some ass. Case in point: my spouse and I differ in our opinions about when it's okay to "strike back." I say that, yes, if some intruder broke into our house in the middle of the night and tried to, I don't know, have his way with her...that's a person I'm fighting. Killing, if it comes to that. So, then, on a larger scale: my admittedly shaky grasp of mid-century politics tells me that we tried to reason with Hitler - yes, you can keep Poland, but THAT'S IT! No more...stay the hell out of France! - but, eventually, it was time someone stepped up to the plate and said "okay, enough's enough." And I can honor those men & women from W.W. II who paid what gets referred to as "the ultimate sacrifice." You landed on Normandy, you fought in North Africa or the islands of the South Pacific...you paid a service to this country. Thank you. Thank you for dying so that I might live freely.

Since that time, though...well, things get a bit murky. The unquestioning lot would say there's no murkiness...that Saddam Hussein was every bit as bad as Adolf Hitler. Worse, if you figure in the notion of a nuclear (NOT nu-cu-lar...thank you very much) threat. Same goes for Ho Chih Minh, and every other piss-ass dictator the United States military has been forced to confront by military brass with itchy trigger fingers. And that really becomes the quandry with trying to make military confrontations (and their outcomes) logical: nothing is ever PROVABLE. No one can say, beyond a certainty of doubt, that the United States is "safer" in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion. We can't say it because it's an unrealized possibility...an "alternate-Earth," if you will, existing side-by-side with our reality, separated by the thinnest of impenatrable barriers of time and space. Can we say that Hussein was as bad as Hitler? No, because we never let him get that far. Maybe. By one logic, we stopped him before he had the chance. But it's an empty logic, unless we can somehow find a way to travel to that alternate Earth and find out, whoops! THIS one didn't stop Hussein in time, and he nuked Washington D.C. off the map with a suitcase bomb.

And so, the concept of honoring our fallen soldiers. I truly am sorry that so many thousands of U.S. men and women have died in the Iraq invasion and its disastrous, bloody aftermath. I'm also sorry for the countless MORE thousands of innocents who have been in harm's way when the shooting started and the car-bombs exploded. But honor them? For whose sake? Not mine...I truly don't believe that the actions of our current administration have made the United States "safer." I'm MORE leery of traveling abroad now than I would have been 4 years ago, when so much worldly good-will was on our side. Should I honor them for their sacrifice? Sacrifice to WHAT? A country whose politicians and military leaders consistently drag into one messy conflict after another? No, there's no honor in that. There's no honor in being blown apart because your Bradley Fighting Vehicle drove over an "improvised explosive device." (Boy wouldn't Carlin love THAT euphemism?) That kind of death is just a waste...a sacrifice not made to a grateful nation, but to a president whose brain was perhaps a little more coke-addled than the electorate thought at first.

I am a patriot. I sing the words to "The Star-Spangled Banner," and I look to the flag of our nation, and I'm grateful to the millions of people who have died protecting the things that flag stands for. I hope for a future in which fighting for those ideals becomes needless...a future in which dying in needless fighting becomes nonexistent.