THINKING FOR OURSELVES
Memories in Small Towns
By Shea Howell
Michigan Citizen, May 26, 2009
This Memorial Day I was in a small town in Maine. It has a year round population of a little over 2000. Few tourists or summer people have come to town yet.
I decided to go to the local holiday parade. It was exactly what you would expect. The police squad car led off, followed by four WWII veterans who formed the color guard. There was an assortment of fire trucks, old cars from the 1930s, a few kids on decorated bicycles, and both the high school and elementary school marching bands. Rounding out the parade was the local volunteer ambulance service.
Some marchers carried balloons, handing them out to almost every child with an outstretched arm.
In the middle was something I didn’t expect. About twenty men and women dressed in black, some wearing t-shirts that said Veterans Against War, carrying banners,. Each banner stretched nearly the width of the street and had about 300 identical flags on each side. Under each flag was the name of a man or woman who had lost their lives in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There were about 15 banners in all, introduced by a large sign that tallied the number of U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. Today that number is nearly 5000 in Iraq and more than 600 in Afghanistan.
These men and women were asking us to remember that Memorial Day shouldn’t just be about past wars. It should remind us every day in the year that we are still involved in brutal wars, taking the lives not only of our own people, but bringing destruction and death to people in Iraq and Afghanistan where at least 753,000 people have died since these wars began. The numbers of both military and civilian deaths in Pakistan are unclear. But one thing we know. Both will grow.
Most of these deaths have not occurred under the leadership of President Obama. Still, they have had an impact on him. He has already spoken of the difficulty he faces in sending letters to the loved ones of fallen soldiers. Even before assuming the office of the President, Mr. Obama gathered information about soldiers killed. Since entering the White House, he has been sending personal notes to their families. Early in the year he told NBC News that he considers sending these letters an important duty and added “You realize every decision you make counts.”
This Memorial Day President Obama acknowledged his own lack of military service, saying, “My grandfather served in Patton’s army in World War II; I cannot know what it is like to walk into battle.” He went on, “I’m the father of two young girls, but I can’t imagine what it is like to lose a child. These are things I cannot know. But I do know this: I am humbled to be the commander-in-chief of the finest fighting force in the history of the world.”
These comments have come a long way from the campaign trail when during debates with then Senator Clinton, both candidates seemed to try to prove who was potentially the tougher commander-in-chief.
But President Obama has also come a long way from the promise of peace.
He has yet to ask us to consider how we have come to this moment. Why are we continuing to kill and be killed in order to protect a national way of living that is neither satisfying or sustaining?
Until, in towns all across America, we ask hard questions of ourselves and our leaders, we will continue to carry banners bearing names of our dead, generation after generation.