We’ve come to that holiday we have every year, which half the population mistakes for a clearance sale at Walmart and the other half just forgets. Unless the horror of war touched you in some personal way, or you happened to pass a cemetery this weekend, you may have forgotten the purpose of the day too.
I suppose that’s what makes it the second most American holiday after Independence Day. On one, we celebrate sacrifice and on the other we forget about what sacrifice costs. Either way, we celebrate both days in exactly the same way – with apathy and ignorance of our history. That is, after all, the American way.
Even though I’m a Cold War veteran, I somehow managed to serve during one of the few, and distressingly brief periods in which we’ve not been at war. But, my Grandfather was wounded in WWI (his flag and Purple Heart sit next to me as I write this) and my father was a WWII submariner in the Pacific. I’ve also been privileged to know many others who did serve during times of war, including several who are no longer with us as a direct result. So, I think I have some idea of the hell war is.
However, I would never pretend to know it like someone who’s been there. In that respect, I have much in common with most of the American people – including our President (who fought his war in Texas – when he felt like showing up), our Vice President (who had “more important” things to do than serve), and our Secretary of Defense (who was a Navy pilot, but who never saw combat and repeatedly disdains those who have). One might reasonably argue that the men responsible for sending people off to die would have it weigh heavily upon them, but these men don’t seem to have given it much thought.
Perhaps they’ve been too busy trying to repeatedly justify their costly adventure. Maybe they’ve been tied up smearing every person who dares speak against their outrage. I’m not sure. But I do know this – none of these men know the meaning of sacrifice.
For those with a short memory, let me remind you that one of the first pronouncements Mr. Bush made after 9/11 was to say the best way to help was to go shopping so the economy wouldn’t suffer. He made that pronouncement while the embers of the collapsed buildings still glowed. That was his idea of sacrifice.
In the time since, he’s cravenly associated everything – either bad or good – with this damnable War on Terror. Not once has he asked anything of this country save to forgive him for the many mistakes he never admits. He’s content with waving flags, paying lip service, and bragging about his leadership. He has repeatedly, and with great disdain, flown in the face of the law and disregarded both the spirit and letter of the Constitution. His sole sacrifice seems to be his once-favorable poll numbers.
Meanwhile, the American people have sacrificed – not because he asked them to – but because he simply seized things without the courtesy. We all have markedly less freedom today than only a few years ago. Workers have sacrificed livelihoods to the likes of Ken Lay and Bangalore. Each day brings a new scandal or incompetence. We are more beholden to foreign powers than ever before. Our schools crumble, our future is for sale, and the only thing that unites us is our visceral hate for each other. What was once a great democracy is now a petty, backstabbing, den of squabblers out for themselves and unwilling to make sacrifice of any kind.
So, I’d like to take this opportunity to do something President Bush seems unable to do on this hallowed day. I call on all Americans to reach out and work together instead of at deadly cross purposes. This will mean sacrifice. It means accepting some things you don’t want in exchange for strength we all have only when we are together.
Don’t misunderstand, this does not mean to squelch dissent. That is one of the few liberties we have left and we must respect it more than we do ourselves. It means to continue to dissent if that is your wont, but remember that, in the end, we all must work together and never let that same dissent become the weakness of keeping us free.
Mr. President, that’s my memorial this year. I hope you can take time from telling our West Point graduates that you are the second coming of Harry Truman. I hope you can take a few minutes away from impeaching our freedoms to think about those who are dying at this moment to protect them. I hope that you can once – perhaps for the first time in your coddled life – lead nearly as well as you seem so fond of claiming.
There isn’t much time left, unless you want your legacy to be many more despicably overcrowded Memorial Days to come. It’s time for you to make a sacrifice. It’s time for you to stare at your overwhelming hubris in the mirror and cast it off before it ruins us all.
Mr. President, while you stare in the mirror, look closely. In the background you’ll see your empire burning and there are still those who want it to be free.
Editor’s Note: I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my nephew, who is currently serving in Mosul, for his service. Son, you’re fighting a war that I believe was unnecessary and neither right nor honorable, but you are serving in it honorably and for that I thank you.