Spending for Pleasure is Easier than Remembering the Pain of our Veterans

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by Sandy Cook, Staff Writer

Over the last seven years we veterans keep re-visiting the subject of shared national sacrifice. Maybe we ought to talk even more about shared national awareness. Without awareness, nothing happens, and certainly not shared sacrifice.

A couple of years ago it was reported that in one American city, on a day when only 1100 people showed up for a veterans’ march, 40,000 showed up for a paint-ball championship.     Soon Memorial Day will produce an article or two on Iraq and Afghanistan, none on peace-keeping missions anywhere, and probably 40 pages of Memorial Day Sale ads.

Is this what we are meant to do? Are we meant to honor our brothers and sisters by buying a mattress on sale? Or better yet, buy something made in another country like a Japanese car, or a Chinese piece of clothing, or a German coffee maker so that we can put the nail in the coffin of good manufacturing jobs for returning veterans.

What does it take to wake up the American people? What does it take to make them see the veterans coming home, wounded, torn, fractured in body and spirit? The yellow ribbon stickers and “Support the Troops” mean almost nothing except “this sticker makes ME feel good.”

The politicians’ speeches, even their legislative scribblings, mean almost nothing but “see how patriotic I am.” In each Congress since the wars began, there are only about a handful of real veterans’ bills on the move out of hundreds written. Most of them get submitted with great fanfare n the politician’s website, and in his or her newsletter, and then they die in committee as even the proposer loses interest.

When I was a kid, on every street corner down town just prior to Memorial Day, World War I and then WW II veterans from the American Legion sold poppies. If you were broke, or a little kid, they gave you the poppy. We wore the poppy to school, on the playground, to church, everywhere, and then retired them to our keepsake cigar box in the bedroom. How many Americans remember the meaning of the poppy? Who wears it today? How many towns and cities don’t even have them for sale?
poppy
In Flanders Fields the poppies blow,
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved and now we lie,
In Flanders Fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw,
The torch, be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us, who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow,
In Flanders Fields.

John McCrae

We need to think on this and ponder its significance. As long as the American people can hide from the results, they and their representatives don’t have to face the war’s consequences. Flanders’ Fields, Iraq’s desert, Afghanistan’s Mountains – it doesn’t matter; the story is the same.

Three years ago Bob Herbert of the NY Times wrote an op-ed that states it well:

“The extent of the suffering caused by the war seldom penetrates the consciousness of most Americans. For the public at large, the dead and the wounded are little more than statistics. They’re out of sight, and thus mostly out of mind.

The media are much more focused on the trendy problem of steroids in baseball than, say, the agony of the once healthy young men and women who are now struggling to resurrect their lives after being paralyzed, or losing their eyesight, or shedding one or two or three or even four limbs in Iraq.”

Those wonderful soldiers of ours risked and sacrificed for something far more important than your right to get something cheap on their remembrance day.

But then, you don’t have to remember, do you? That would be too much of a personal sacrifice wouldn’t it? It’s more than enough to just hang out your flag and hightail it to the Mall, isn’t it? After all, that’s pretty much what your neighbor does. And he doesn’t even put out a flag so you are obviously more patriotic.

“It is easy for us who are living to honor the sacrifices of those who are dead. For it helps us to assuage the guilt we should feel in their presence. Wars can be prevented just as surely as they are provoked, and therefore we who fail to prevent them share in guilt for the dead.”

General of the Army Omar Bradley
Administrator of Veterans Affairs, 1945-48

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