It’s still Sunday where I am as I write this, and I did not attend any Memorial Day (weekend) ceremonies and will not tomorrow, the actual day designated as Memorial Day — not because I have no respect for those who have died in the service of my country — quite the contrary — I have the utmost respect for them. In fact, I have a lot more respect for them than I do the politicians and policy makers that sent them into harm’s way (these days especially, it seems, none of them have or will ever have to face such a prospect personally).
To be sure, throughout our history many young men (and women) have gone quite willingly into battle, sometimes for the pure adventure of it all. Others have felt it their duty. Still others just went because they felt they had no choice, but many of them tried to make the best of it.
While I am not the military type, I am proud that I and my brothers served. I’m sure they did a better job. My next oldest brother served in Vietnam during the war there and my oldest brother was a career Navy man, working his way up from boot seaman well into the officer ranks. I did the NATO thing in Germany during the worst of the Vietnam War, Oh, well, I filled a slot. Someone had to do KP and walk guard duty and help man the tanks in case the commies were to come over the border.
Many years ago when I was a newspaper photographer/reporter I used to do the requisite coverage on Memorial Day — parade photos and coverage of ceremonies at the cemetery. In more recent years my now late wife and I attended local ceremonies at the cemetery and felt some pride in our nation, even if we did not always agree with the current or even past foreign policy that made all these sacrifices necessary.
We honor the sacrifice, if not always the policy.
Now I have seldom ever heard of anyone seriously criticizing our (the U.S.) involvement in World War II.
But I have often heard that going “over there” for World War I was a dubious proposition that solved nothing and put to waste so many lives in dreadful trench warfare in which men were forced to run head-on into machine gun and artillery fire. And to add insult to injury (and death), the European powers went to war with each other all over again within a couple of decades and the U.S. found itself fighting over there again, but with more concrete results.
If you read enough history you will even find criticism of our Revolutionary War, with some revisionists claiming that some of the colonists did not appreciate the fact the mother country was supporting its colonies, to include protection on the high seas for international trade, but that they did not want to pay the taxes — kind of sounds like today when many people expect a lot of things from government but don’t see the connection with taxes. But of course without the Revolutionary War there would be no United States of America, and we have developed our own unique form for democracy and so many people want to come here. We must be doing something right.
The Civil War (or War Between the States if you live in the South) seems to me to have been a terrible and possibly unnecessary tragedy. One of the major issues or in fact maybe the major issue, from which the others derived, was slavery. It seems maybe with the benefit of hindsight that slavery would have eventually died out from its eventual overall impracticality. But maybe again the Civil War was inevitable, with the clash of two economic cultures and social systems, one in which human beings were treated as work animals to be bought and sold and mistreated (there really never was a defense of that).
Okay, I won’t analyze each and every conflict. I mean there is plenty of controversy about Korea and Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan and now Libya, as well as many other military endeavors.
The point is something I have said many times before, we are honoring the sacrifices people made in the name of our country, right or wrong, without the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.
I have to work tomorrow. But if you get a chance and there is still a ceremony to attend, maybe do so. Or some people still put decorations on graves in honor of the day’s old title, Decoration Day (sometimes even on the graves of those who did not serve, I am told).
As small a gesture as it is, I think as soon as I post this I am going to go out on my apartment balcony and look over the beautiful country where I live and take a moment to be thankful for those who cared enough to sacrifice their lives and even for those who did so more under compulsion. The result is the same. We remain as the leader in democracy and free of foreign domination.