Memorial Day is a somber reminder, a commemoration of the men and women who have died in military service to this country. Not numbers. Men and women.
This Memorial Day we're approaching 1,000 more souls lost since last May 30th. As I write these words, the actual DOD count of the US dead since the war began is 3452. By the time you read this, odds are the count has grown. This President has assured us that their sacrifice was not made in vain. In vain or not, I'm sure the parents of these 1,000 heroes are relieved by the President's willingness to sacrifice their sons and daughters. I'm sure the parents of the nearly 3500 lost in Iraq are heartened by the President's words.
I've been writing some semblance of this column to commemorate each time we reach another tragic level of soldiers' lives sacrificed to George Bush's fire sale of sanity in Iraq. My concern has always been that we never forget that behind each number is a real person lost forever. Not a comma in history, but a very vivid heartbreak to every person that life had touched; something that I don't believe this president feels, no matter what red, white and blue catchphrase he or his spokespersons use to feint a sense of loss.
The only way that this President can truly comprehend the anguish he continues to bring this country is to feel 1,000 times what every single one of those deaths felt like to their family. If he actually feels anything, my guess is the the closest he can relate to these parents would be when his daughters' partying privileges were lost in South America.
So many of talk radio's Lords of Loud choose to rationalize the 3500 killed as nominal when compared to the 55,000 killed in Vietnam. While to most, 3500 deaths are 3500 too many, to those who have not suffered personally, or dodged serving when they had the chance, 3500 deaths are also much too easy to cope with.
The administration continues to work diligently to hide the real cost of war, and not just through its exclusion from the budget. Discussions of death are meant only for very private consumption. Coffins hidden from public view should not keep private a family's heartache. It insulates the public from the truth, much like listening to "We're patriotic, or you're traitorous!" talk radio. The Lords of Loud honor the soldier by wrapping themselves in red, white and blue distortions. President Bush tells you and me that he honors those deaths by "staying the course" or "adapting to win" or "never been stay the course," or whatever the catchphrase of the week is. The President and talk radio's superstars say they pay tribute to those who have fallen. But in reality, their job has been to dismiss these deaths as fodder and justification for an unnecessary war, and for more deaths. That's not tribute. That's mad.
Still, one cannot swathe war into a "right" or "left" issue. It is not a question of whether invading Iraq was right or wrong. It's an issue that goes to the heart of war -- real war, and its real consequences. Within its reality is a means to how we can truly pay tribute to those who have fallen, how we can sincerely identify with those families who have lost -- and it is more than an outreach to the suffering. It's an exploration of one's own humanity.
Before you can honestly understand war's demands, it is incumbent to empathize with those who have already lost, and you cannot empathize with those who have suffered by reflecting on 3500 deaths. You empathize by contemplating a single death...
.. 3500 times.
You have to see each of the 3500, not as a number but as a real person; someone who had a history, albeit a much too short one; someone who was once an infant in the arms of a mother or a father. A mother and a father once filled with joy... hope...dreams. You have to understand that the man or woman who died was once a child playing with friends, laughing, crying, absorbing an education...working on building tomorrows. You have to place yourself inside each one of those human numbers, entering a battlefield incredibly scared, breathing heavily, gulping fear, alive, but unaware that in moments you would die.
To comprehend a death in war, you have to acknowledge that every one of these fatalities began with a horrific split second when fiery hot metal tore apart human flesh. A moment that slowly drew life from its all too human target. Let's not forget that we're talking about a kid, too young to die, but dying just the same. With every death you must acknowledge there was fear, agony, panic, screams, freaked out buddies uncontrollably trembling over their wounded and soon to be dead comrade; youngsters trying to comfort another youngster, yet knowing that their best lying won't fool their bleeding brother.
Then there's the moment that the soldier passes from life to death. But you still can't walk away from this hideous nightmare, because the nightmare doesn't end there. For each death brings endless waves of tears, vivid nightmares, horrid news to be relayed to next of kin. Each death is soon followed by a ringing of a phone, carrying a death rattle of torturous news that will break, into a million pieces, the hearts of mothers, fathers, children, wives, husbands, brothers and sisters, friends and colleagues...news that will never change no matter how hard they ask God to change it. And they will ask...over and over and over.
You cannot ignore the implication of the loss; the sudden baptism of another young widow or widower forced to raise children less one parent; mothers and fathers who will spend the rest of their life arguing with God that children should not die before a parent; siblings waking up every single day hoping that the previous day's incomprehensible pain was just a bad dream but faced with a day choking down the heartbreak, because this nightmare is much too real. And always, the disbelief that they will never see that person again.
Now here's the kicker. Each and every one of those 3500 times that you remind yourself of how hideous each casualty is, you have to think of that death as your own child's. Because 3500 times it was some parent's child who died.
Now... multiply what you feel 3500 times.
You can believe this war is right, that George Bush is the greatest president we ever had, and every soldier died for a good reason. But before you can honestly say that, you have to make yourself go through each death as if it were your own baby's blood spilling.