A Veteran Stays Home on Memorial Day
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I suspected the call might not come this year. After two years of reluctantly turning down the invitation to join fellow Veterans marching in my town's Memorial Day parade, no request for my participation came this May. I was relieved.
I still don't know the origin of the list that somehow makes its way into the hands of well-meaning people such as the parade organizer and the kind Girl Scouts who deliver homemade cookies to our homes each Veterans Day. Somehow they know who the Vets are in my small New York town and they go out of their way to honor us, including asking us to march in the annual Memorial Day parade.
And yet every year since the Iraq war began, I simply can't do it. I don't struggle as mightily now as I did a year or two ago as my thoughts and raw feelings on the subject have become crystal clear.
It is a sick paradox that Veterans -- who should despise George W. Bush and his administration more than most -- are still among the groups that seem to stand by his side, largely supported him as recently as the 2004 election and even donated to his efforts to retain his unfortunate Command-in-Chief role. Forget the Swift Boat Liars, who so cruelly assailed John Kerry in 2004 with their fictitious and irrelevant accounts of his Vietnam service -- they're so far gone that only greed or mental illness can explain their conduct and I can only hope that none live in my town.
But as far as I'm concerned, any of my neighbors who voted for Bush -- and certainly those who support him even today, with so many more facts to work with -- have on their hands the blood of almost 2,500 of our brothers and sisters who have died in Iraq. And, while I understand that Memorial Day is supposed to be an apolitical day of solemn remembrance, I just cannot bring myself to march should-to-shoulder with them.
I give no free pass to other Vets on this one. You can't piously claim to mourn the war dead while supporting the very people and policies responsible for putting so many of the most recent we honor in their graves. The grotesque hypocrisy of memorializing dead Veterans while cheering on those who created so many young widows and widowers is not something I can do while holding my tongue and maintaining civility.
Thomas M. Braun, a Veteran writing on Democratic Underground in 2004, said it quite well:
"I cannot say how deeply ashamed I am of this war. I never supported George W. Bush. I voted against him because I saw his vacant and wild stare and heard his jumbled, chopped, and childish words. I knew he was inept and incompetent to serve, not only as president, but as Commander-in-Chief of our brave armed forces. I know he is a fraud. Our country has been deeply harmed by this war and this man who hears God tell him to 'spread democracy' so violently. All of this is based on a lie."
As someone whose biggest, personal military stress was planning how to quietly desert his post in the Air National Guard, Bush has no idea what battle really looks like. Leading our military and the results of war are all an abstraction to him and it is with deadly consequences that Bush handles this responsibility like a young boy playing with toy soldiers on a dirt pile in the back yard. He has never seen young soldiers die or seen everything they would ever become draining from their bodies as they die far away from a parent or spouse's final embrace.
We have lost thousands, have many thousands more who have been maimed for life and an untold number who will suffer the psychological effects of this war for a lifetime. Our current leadership has also caused the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians and destroyed the reputation and good faith we formerly enjoyed with other nations and that was earned by so many others we remember today.
And somehow this president has found a way to make some Veterans ashamed to publicly observe Memorial Day, because doing so means indirectly associating ourselves with a hollow cause, a paper-tiger of a Commander-in-Chief and the man responsible for too many of the deaths we honor at the end of each May.
So, I will stay away from the parades and the speeches today.
Instead, I will sit quietly and perhaps sip a beer in honor of friends I once had who are no longer alive. I'll also take the time to reflect on the debt we owe all who have died wearing our country's uniform and to mourn in advance those who will face a pointless death in the coming hours, days, weeks and months in Iraq.
While the rest of us feel legitimate sadness for our bravest who have passed, our government continues to pursue policies that guarantee we will have more to memorialize one year from now.
It is sick and it is wrong. And while I will not participate in a parade today, any of my fellow Veterans who march in remembrance, while supporting this ongoing abuse of our military and our democracy, should walk with their heads hung in shame.
You can reach Bob Geiger at email@example.com