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return-coffins-from-iraq

Yuji: Did you hear Mari’s gone to New York for a week?

Dane: Really? She picked a bad time to go.

Yuji: Yeah,she might come back with the swine flu.

Dane: The swine flu? Forget about it!

Yuji: Well, why is it a bad time to go?

Dane: It’s the Memorial Day three-day weekend. A lot of stores and stuff are closed.

Yuji: Memorial Day? What do they remember?

Dane: All the Americans who died in wars.

Yuji: Must be a lot – America has been in a lot of wars.

Dane: Yes, I’ll say! Ten major wars in the last 240 years.

Yuji: That adds up to one for every generation.

Dane: And quite a few smaller ones in between.

Yuji: So, how many soldiers have died so far?

Dane: 1,358,053 as of last Wednesday.

Yuji: And the count goes on. They’re still fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Dane: Yes. More than one death every day this month.

Yuji: I wonder who the last poor soul was.

Dane: I checked. The last named death was a 25-year old named Roslyn Shulte.

Yuji: Roslyn? A woman?

Dane: Yes, she was an Air Force lieutenant from St. Louis.

Yuji:What a waste! A girl and so young.

Dane: Well most of them have been men younger than that. The most common age is 20, but Christopher Snider, the first American to die in the Revolution, was only 12!

Yuji: Twelve? That’s too young to be in the Army, isn’t it?

Dane: He wasn’t a soldier, he was an innocent bystander who was shot by a Loyalist. The Boston Massacre happened when people were demonstrating against his death.

Yuji: I see. I didn’t think a twelve-year-old could join the Army.

Dane: It’s happened. John Clem became a sergeant in the Union Army in 1864 when he was just twelve. But at least he survived the war.

Yuji: How old do you have to be to join the Army?

Dane: Nowadays the minimum age is eighteen. But you can join at 17 if your parents say it’s OK. I was drafted for Vietnam just after I turned 19.

Yuji: Thank God you made it back alive!

Dane: Yeah, but some of my friends didn’t. Did any of your family die in the war?

Yuji: One of my great uncles died in the Philippines. What about you?

Dane: My wife’s uncle died in Manchuria and her grandmother died in a US air raid in Tokyo. Her father was a soldier in China and my Dad was a pilot in Europe and Korea. Both of them made it back alive.

Yuji: I guessed so. Otherwise neither of you would be here today! Anyway, what do you do on Memorial Day?

Dane: We’re suppose to honor the fallen soldiers, but for most Americans it’s just another long weekend. Do you have a Memorial Day?

Yuji: No, because we lost the war. But some of us try to honor the people who died in the China and Pacific Wars.

Dane: How many died?

Yuji: 1.2 million soldiers and 580,000 civilians!

Dane: Including Hiroshima and Nagasaki? I thought more Japanese civilians died. That’s not as bad as some countries. The Germans lost over 7 million people total – not counting the Holocaust.

Yuji: I guess the Germans suffered the most, but then they started it, didn’t they.

Dane: No, the Soviets had the highest casualties – about 23 million!

Yuji: Jesus! And I read somewhere that 20 million Chinese died. What about America?

Dane: Not so bad, actually. We lost about 417,000 soldiers, and only 1,700 civilians.

Yuji: Maybe if everyone remembered how many people have already died in wars, they wouldn’t start new wars.

Dane: Definitely! That’s what Memorial Day really should be all about.

[Note: War casualty figures taken from Wikipedia]

“Say a prayer for peace
For every fallen son
Set my spirit free
Let me lay down my gun
Sweet mother Mary I’m so tired
But I can’t come home ’til
the last shot’s fired”

Trace Adkins – ‘Til the Last Shot’s Fired

.

Trace sings the sentiments so many Americans feel today; hopes for peace, despair for life lost, faith in the promise of heaven and in the dedication of the soldier. His solid, soulful voice evokes pride and comfort — too much comfort for me.  I cannot feel comfortable about violent death; I do not accept it as inevitable or useful; but only as pointless slaughter.

Certainly the death of our best youth must serve a purpose, but whose? Who does it benefit? The dead soldier? You? Me? The vague collective entity we like to call the American people? The politicos? The military brass? The war profiteers? The enemy? God?

Most conscientious Americans want very much to believe that the soldiers’ sacrifice was not made in vain, that it was for the noblest cause and that it will contribute to eventual victory of our nation over its enemies. Only this can bring us comfort; comfort that encourages feelings of honor, pride and certainty in the rightness of our war.  The flags and anthems raised for the fallen soldiers then set the stage for yet more unjust death.

Better we deny ourselves the self-serving comfort, the self delusions, the patriot pandering. How much better it would be if their sacrifice were seen for what it is, the ugly, horrific, waste of mankind; only then will their deaths be not in vain, but will serve the greatest purpose of all, the end of the cycle of death, the end of war.

To this end, and at risk of incurring much righteous wrath, I ask you to forgo the flag draped eulogies and appeals for glory and  instead focus your memorial thoughts on the horror of war and the reality of death. Honor is for the living — there is nothing for the dead but eternity.

I believe we all owe it to the men and woman who died in the name of our professed national interest to witness their sacrifice without comfort.  They may not all be heroes, but they are all dead. Many of those who lived may suffer even more.  Hollywood sometimes tries to recreate the horror, but as you watch keep in mind that even its most graphic attempts never quite succeed.


hamburger hillHAMBURGER HILL [Click image to view closing scene]

Omaha Beach from Saving Private Ryan

The End – The Doors from Apocalypse Now Intro

The End – The Doors – full concert version

Scenes from The Thin Red Line

The Thin Red Line – When You’re Gone – Avril Lavign

RELATED POST:  WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT WAR?

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