23 May 2007: Sacrifice & Burgers

Thanks for the sacrifice; have a burger

“How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” That was the question John Kerry posited for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1973. Thirty-four years later, the question, once again, is before us, and it cuts right to the chase: Who will be asked to be the last to die in Iraq for a mistake?

On Monday, Americans will celebrate Memorial Day, ostensibly to remember those who sacrificed their lives for us. For many though, that will be an after-thought, with more pressing concerns dominating—cookouts, first-of-the-summer camping, 10k races, graduations, and the ultimate solemnity, the Indy 500.

“Support the troops.” The line should have meaning. Recall the yellow magnet ribbons that so many once sported—feel good, bumper sticker patriotism. But it was little more than lip service as evidenced by the lack of body armor while in the theater, top grade medical care after returning, and re-redeployments for the troops. Like other politicized slogans, “support the troops” became trite, shallow, and meaningless. Veterans are not spit on as some were after returning from Vietnam; they just suffer from benign neglect: “Rather thee than me, and thank you for your service.”

Ironically, it is almost certain that more than one American will die in Iraq on Monday while Americans are frolicking. Hence, a second question: Did those who have fallen in Iraq die so the rest of us can camp, run, and race?

If the answer is yes, then a question for those of us on the Home Front: Have we fulfilled our moral obligation to do our part at least in part, much as our ancestors—is it that far back?—did in WW II: rationing (curtailing our driving habits to limit fuel consumption), buying war bonds (raising our taxes to pay for it), enjoining the fight (drafting all able-bodied citizens regardless of class)?

If the answer is no, then: Why remain one more day, asking some soldier to be the last to die not for a cause, but for a mistake?

Iraq may have been a mistake, but what of the 3,300-plus who have died? How could they have died for my freedom when the essential truth is this war is not about defending American freedom? Surely though, they haven’t died in vain.

The answer lies in perspective—that this conflict is not about the future of the Iraqi nation, but of the American. Remove it from the Middle East arena and place it squarely where it belongs: from sea to shining sea. This war is, in reality, the latest struggle for the American soul, the bloodied side of an otherwise bloodless civil war. It’s not about an external threat, but the internal one. From that perspective, the casualties exceed 3,300-plus.

Our country has from time to time dealt with this “identity crisis,” primarily during the Civil War. It is fitting, therefore, to reflect on Lincoln’s words at Gettysburg. His words are poetic and offer hope, and they give meaning not only to the battlefield casualties of war but also to the larger struggle about who we are as a people:

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that this nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

“But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate – we cannot consecrate – we cannot hallow – this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.

“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us, that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that this government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from this earth.”

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