Memorial Day, considered
Posted May 30, 2011 at 1:25PM
For most of us, Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer, maybe a time to go to the beach. In many years, it's been that way for me.
But not this year. This year I'm thinking about the real Memorial Day, the day when we (should) pause to remember those who served, and those who fell.
My father, who would be 96 if he were still living, was a Purple Heart veteran of the Second World War, where he fought in the Normandy campaign and the Battle of the Bulge. He survived his wounds and that war, but an astounding 405,000 Americans didn't (including 291,000 American lives lost in direct combat). Over a million Americans were killed or wounded. For other nations, it was much worse: an estimated 20 million military personnel and 60 million civilians died over the course of the war.
That war must have been so different from the ones Americans have experienced in my lifetime. We didn't have a voluntary military then; essentially, everyone who was physically able to serve, did. The country sacrificed at home, too, with shortages, rationing, shifting the economy to support the war effort. Today, for most of us, we just pay taxes and a large portion of them goes to equip and pay other people to risk their lives under our flag. We put the country into debt to finance the war effort, and most of us live our lives at home as if war had no consequence; politicians blame the debt on social programs. War is something we read and hear about in the news, like a distant earthquake.
Except for those who become casualties and their families. For them the consequences are horrific. Today, let's remember them, and those who went before them.
American casualties in other wars include the following:
- World War One ("The Great War") - 53,000 killed in combat, 116,000 total, another 204,000 wounded.
- Korean War - 53,000 killed, another 92,000 wounded, nearly 5000 missing in action.
- Vietnam - 47,000 killed in combat, 58,000 total, another 153,000 wounded, nearly 2500 MIA.
- Afghanistan & Iraq - 4600 killed in combat (so far), 5800 total, another 41,000 wounded.
- Civil War - 213,000 killed in combat, 625,000 total.
I'm close to being a pacifist, but I'm not, really. Once I start considering exceptions and exceptions to exceptions, intellectual consistency begins to unravel. Uncertainty invades and toys with clarity.
There is no uncertainty, though, regarding my respect for the military, for the men and women who serve and have served. My quarrels are with politicians, not soldiers, sailors, and airmen and women. Today we honor your service, and that of my father's generation, and those who came before; and we remember and mourn those we have lost.
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