In Memoriam

It seems sadly fitting that the US death toll reached 1,000 in the Afghanistan war this weekend.

I’ve discovered that there seems to be some confusion about the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day. That fact confuses me, frankly, though their previous designations would be much more unclear.

Memorial Day, which falls on the last Monday of May, commemorates the men and women who died while serving in the American military. Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971.

Veterans Day, initially designated as Armistice Day in 1919, after World War I is a celebration to honor America’s veterans.

It seems sadly fitting that the US toll reached 1,000 deaths in the Afghanistan war this weekend, with “more U.S. military deaths in the last 10 months… than in the first five years of the conflict. More boots on the ground than in Iraq.”

Despite my major misgivings about the war(s), the list of war dead always affects me, every Sunday morning on ABC News’ This Week.
Here’s the one for February 10, 2008, which also noted the death of ABC’s former Pentagon correspondent John McWethy, who asked a former Secretary of Defense a pertinent question. This one, for February 15, 2010, also noted the deaths of Congressman John Murtha, who opposed the Iraq war, and former Congressman Charlie Wilson, who was a proponent of US involvement in Afghanistan years before the current conflict.

Oh, yeah, the lie that Obama’s non-presence at Arlington is somehow unprecedented. I’m perfectly comfortable with differences of opinions; deliberate prevarication is something else again.

Celebrity deaths:
Art Linkletter, 97 – I watched House Party when I was a kid, probably up to when I went to kindergarten, but not so much afterward. I always think that the “darndest things” the kids said rather annoying, actually.
Gary Coleman, 42 – I might have watched a half-season of Diff’rent Strokes, maybe less, before bailing. The L.A. Times obit made mention of his “unlikely run for California governor”. As though the state hadn’t elected an actor in the position before. He becomes another cautionary tale, I suppose.
Dennis Hopper, 74 – I remember him from my earliest television watching, though I didn’t know his name. I know him best from Easy Rider, but he was also the villain in the first movie The Wife and I ever saw together, Speed. I was still watching 24 for his villainous turn there. He was an artist and an iconoclast. Damn, died of prostate cancer, just like my father.

Fallen soldiers, fallen leaves

I associate the raking of falling leaves with Veterans Day. Some of this is at the mundane level. One November 10, I raked the leaves so well, and then the next day, more dropped so that it appeared that I had made no effort at all. It seems that the leaves all fall almost at once. I can tell it was last Thursday in the front of my house, with leaves covering up half of the windshield of the car.

The linkage, however, is also more subtle. One rakes the leaves early on, and one feels a sense of accomplishment. In that second and third pass over the same terrain, though, the law of diminishing returns kicks in. Is it REALLY worth the effort to go over that ground again?

War must feel like that. In the beginning, everyone, at least everyone who’s in charge of executing the war, must have a sense of the rightness of their duty. As the war drags on, though, do doubts settle in?

I always wondered about extremely long wars. In year 37 of the 100 Years’ War, do the leaders remember what the point was. By year 73, all the leaders are most certainly dead, and all there is to hold onto is an abstraction. “For England!” or whatnot.

I came across this video about World War I, the end of which we are celebrating its 90th anniversary today. It’s not all gunfire, as the first minute or two might suggest, but has music of the period.

As you may know, WWI was so awful that it was thought that it must certainly be the “war to end all wars.” The League of Nations was formed and the world lived peacefully ever after, or so the script read. Here’s a list of wars most of them since 1918, with casualties when available.

I guess we’ll keep on trying for peace, regardless of our inability to achieve it.


I went to a talk by Rex Smith of the Times union newspaper who was talking about “Communication for Citizenship: How Journalism Can Help Sustain Society’s Progress.” One of the points he made was that if he were hiring a new reporter, he’d rather get someone who understand nuance rather than someone who was just a good writer. As the chair of the Education for Journalism Committee of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, he is seeking to develop the same thing in young potential readers.
But, the last questioner (I) asked, “How do you teach ‘nuance’? It seems that so many institutions in the past 20 years are polarized, from Congress to elements of the press.” On the hiring side at least, Rex talked about looking for intelligence, people who can look at the whole picture.

Some people still seem to think that it is inconsistent to “support the troops” unless one supports the war they are fighting in. I so disagree. I think that one can oppose the war in Iraq, which I have from the very beginning, actually before it started, while appreciating the sacrifices of people in the military and their families.

I think “supporting our troops” would have meant getting them the vehicles and body armor necessary to withstand roadside bombs much earlier. I think “supporting our troops” involves supporting a G.I. Bill for our returning troops. I think “supporting our troops” means getting them home ASAP.


Iraq Plus Five

I’m not quite sure what more there is to say. Just this month, there was a study discounting the Saddam Hussein/Al-Qaeda link. This follows this 2007 report, which merely confirms what the 9/11 Commission said back in 2004. I won’t even talk about the expense, which is now calculated in the TRILLIONS of dollars.

Here’s a website tracking the casualties. Let us pray that we’re NOT there for another hundred years.
I need to write more on this, but let me say that I really liked Obama’s speech on race.


War to End All Wars

Since I understood its meaning, I always liked Veterans Day. When I was a child, I loved the parades.

Now, I appreciate the perhaps the foolhardy optimism of a war to end all wars, which is what they called The Great War; it ended on November 11, 1918, which became Armistice Day. Of course, the Great War became World War I when we fought World War II. Armistice Day became Veterans Day, and we’ve had a couple wars since then.

Even as we honor those who fight the wars the politicians send them to, the foolhardy dream remains:
I ain’t gonna study war no more,
I ain’t gonna study war no more,

Ain’t Gonna Study War No More.
United Methodist bishops call for US withdrawal from Iraq.


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