Today, TomDispatchregular Andrew Bacevich, author of America's War for the Greater Middle East, focuses on the sole memorial in this country to those who have fought in our now almost 18-year-old war on terror -- never actually a coherent "war" but a spreading set of conflicts, upheavals, and chaos of every sort. As Bacevich points out, the memorial to American soldiers who were sent into that chaos and died is essentially hidden away in a small Midwestern town, which tells you what you need to know about the value Americans actually place on those wars.
Of course, there is one other shrine in this country, New York City's 9/11 Memorial and Museum, dedicated to the nearly 3,000 civilians who died in al-Qaeda's initial attacks. Ever since, civilians have suffered massively without any kind of commemoration whatsoever -- and yet, in a sense, you might say that there are indeed another set of "memorials" to the dead of the post-9/11 war on terror. You just have to put that word in quotation marks. I'm thinking about the rubblized cities of the Middle East. Of, for instance, Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, significant parts of which were, in 2017, reduced to ruins by American air power and artillery (which delivered an estimated 29,000 munitions) and ISIS suicide bombs and other explosives. It still largely remains so. I'm thinking of the Syrian provincial city of Raqqa, on which the U.S. and allied air forces reportedly rained more than 20,000 bombs and which also remains in rubble. Other Iraqi cities like Ramadi and Fallujah had similar experiences.
Think of those cities (or former cities) as the very opposite of America's memorial walls to the dead. Think of them as the wall-less cities of the dead (and the desperately living) in a region that, in response to the brutal killings of those victims in the towers in New York, continues to be rubblized with another war now possibly in sight. Tom
The "Forever Wars" Enshrined
By Andrew J. Bacevich
Earlier this month, I spent a day visiting Marseilles to videotape a documentary about recent American military history, specifically the ongoing wars that most of us prefer not to think about.
Lest there be any confusion, let me be more specific. I am not referring to Marseilles (mar-SAY), France, that nation's largest port and second largest city with a population approaching 900,000. No, my destination was Marseilles (mar-SAYLZ), Illinois, a small prairie town with a population hovering around 5,000.
Our own lesser Marseilles nestles alongside the Illinois River, more or less equidistant between Chicago and Peoria, smack dab in the middle of flyover country. I have some personal familiarity with this part of America. More than half a century ago, the school I attended in nearby Peru used to play the Panthers of Marseilles High. Unfortunately, their school closed three decades ago.
Back then, the town had achieved minor distinction for manufacturing corrugated boxes for Nabisco. But that factory was shuttered in 2002 and only the abandoned building remains, its eight-story hulk still looming above Main Street.
Today, downtown Marseilles, running a few short blocks toward the river, consists of tired-looking commercial structures dating from early in the previous century. Many of the storefronts are empty. By all appearances, the rest may suffer a similar fate in the not-too-distant future. Although the U.S. economy has bounced back from the Great Recession, recovery bypassed Marseilles. Here, the good times ended long ago and never came back. The feel of the place is weary and forlorn. Hedge-fund managers keen to turn a quick profit should look elsewhere.
Perhaps not too surprisingly, this is Trump country. Marseilles is located in LaSalle County, which in 2016 voted for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton by a hefty 14% margin. It's easy to imagine residents of Marseilles, which is more than 96% white, taking umbrage at Clinton's disparaging reference to The Donald's supporters as so many "deplorables." They had reason to do so.
A Midwestern Memorial to America's Wars in the Greater Middle East
Today, Marseilles retains one modest claim to fame. It's the site of the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial, dedicated in June 2004 and situated on an open plot of ground between the river and the old Nabisco plant. The memorial, created and supported by a conglomeration of civic-minded Illinois bikers, many of them Vietnam veterans, is the only one in the nation that commemorates those who have died during the course of the various campaigns, skirmishes, protracted wars, and nasty mishaps that have involved U.S. forces in various quarters of the Greater Middle East over the past several decades.
Think about it: Any American wanting to pay personal tribute to those who fought and died for our country in World War II or Korea or Vietnam knows where to go -- to the Mall in Washington D.C., that long stretch of lawn and reflecting pools connecting the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. Any American wanting to honor the sacrifice of those who fought and died in a series of more recent conflicts that have lasted longer than World War II, Korea, and Vietnam combined must travel to a place where the nearest public transportation is a Greyhound bus station down the road in Ottawa and the top restaurant is Bobaluk's Beef and Pizza. Nowhere else in this vast nation of ours has anyone invested the money and the effort to remember more than a generation's worth of less-than-triumphant American war making. Marseilles has a lock on the franchise.
Critics might quibble with the aesthetics of the memorial, dismissing it as an unpretentious knock-off of the far more famous Vietnam Wall. Yet if the design doesn't qualify as cutting edge, it is palpably honest and heartfelt. It consists chiefly of a series of polished granite panels listing the names of those killed during the various phases of this country's "forever wars" going all the way back to the sailors gunned down in the June 1967 Israeli attack on the USS Liberty.
Those panels now contain more than 8,000 names. Each June, in conjunction with the annual "Illinois Motorcycle Freedom Run," which ends at the memorial, more are added. Along with flags and plaques, there is also text affirming that all those commemorated there are heroes who died for freedom and will never be forgotten.
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