A True Memorial

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OK, here is my post-Memorial Day gripe. Memorial Day is not the Fourth of July, Flag Day, Armed Forces Day or Veterans Day. It is a day to remember the war dead. You don’t do that with picnics, brass bands, parades, pompous speeches and hype for the current war. "Memorial" and "celebration" are not synonyms. The day was intended for visiting cemeteries, not beaches or amusement parks.

The great cheapening of the event began some decades ago when the federal-employee unions persuaded Congress to make federal holidays into three-day weekends. It was a crass decision that cheapened the concept of patriotism.

I don’t think that many Americans are really patriotic anymore. For some, patriotism is rooting for whatever the current war is and saluting whichever cheap politician happens to be occupying the White House. It doesn’t seem to matter to these folks whether the war is just or unjust, necessary or unnecessary. It doesn’t seem to matter if the politician is an honest public servant or a devious liar. Such mindless jingoists remind me of the crowds who cheered for Adolf Hitler.

We are all going to die, of course, but it has always seemed to me that one of the worst deaths is the unnecessary death. It ought to be, but obviously is not, the goal of American politicians to never send young men and women to an unnecessary war. "Unnecessary" is easy to define. It means you don’t go to war against a country that is not a threat to the U.S.

No American takes an oath to defend a foreign country or overthrow a foreign tyrant. We take an oath to defend our Constitution and our country. End of story. American patriotism has become so diluted that crowds don’t even blink when a politician running for public office publicly proclaims "undying support" for a foreign country. On such occasions, the politician should be booed and reminded that he is an American in America running for an American office to represent and serve the American people. If he loves a foreign country more than his own, then he is free to emigrate. He should not be free to sacrifice the lives of young Americans on behalf of any foreign country.

No American has "died defending freedom" since the end of World War II. Americans have died in the Korean Civil War, the Vietnamese Civil War and in several imperialistic forays for presumably various corporate interests. Given the fact that communist Vietnam is now an object of American investments, I would hate to have to explain to a widow or a grieving mother why her loved one had to die over there. Other than profits to the war corporations, what did 58,000 dead Americans accomplish? If we’re going to accept communism in Vietnam now, why not then? Where are all the terrible consequences politicians told Americans we had to avoid by going to war in Vietnam? If you find one, let me know. I suspect they’re in the museum of political lies, next to the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

Memorial Day should be a solemn and sad day as we remember all the young men and young women who were denied the joys of a normal life span. War is cruel and vicious, but whether the war is just or unjust, necessary or unnecessary, those who die in it die honorably in the service of their country. Never blame the soldier for the politician’s war, and never allow anybody else to do so in your presence.

Whatever deceit and corruption oozes out of Washington, the men and women of the armed forces are innocent and untainted by it. They follow duty, honor and love for their comrades in arms. They die for each other and for the people they love at home. That love deserves to be respected and honored. In the worst of circumstances, they demonstrate the best a human can be.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.

© 2008 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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