COLUMN: We shouldn't forget the reasons why soldiers die when remembering them
I always feel conflicted on Memorial Day.
On one hand, I feel a sense of gratitude if not wonderment at the willingness of our military servicemen and veterans to sacrifice for the greater good of our society. On the other hand, I often feel a bit of righteous anger about how out military is often taken for granted and abused by the powers that be.
I am proud of my country and my fellow citizens for a lot of reasons. But there also are lots of reasons why days like Memorial Day do not necessarily make my heart swell with pride. I can’t help but notice as a student of history that many of the conflicts my country has engaged in since WWII were elective or covert wars often not fought for the preservation of ideals like freedom or humanity but rather things like politics, the business interests of American based multi-national corporations and the lifestyle of consumerism.
As a journalist, I am inherently skeptical about things my government, the military or my culture ardently desires for me to believe about its motives in the use of force. The war in Iraq, for instance, was sold to the American public on the claims that Saddam Hussein had ties to al-Qaida and that his military possessed weapons of mass destruction. I have been vexed for years about how our leaders could get away with claiming 100-percent certainty of the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, then displaying no knowledge of where in the world they were located.
That war evidently started as an elective war on largely bogus pretenses rather than a war of last resort for inescapable reasons. So, I am left in the position of honoring the sacrifice and commitment of our military personnel, being amazed at how willing our government is to manipulate our feelings of patriotism and how gullible much of the public is.
I couldn't help but think of this on Memorial Day, too.
War is an abstraction to most of us. It’s something most of us experience only in talking to veterans, reading books or newspapers or watching short, sanitized video clips.
I had two grandfathers who served in WWII, some relatives who served in Vietnam and one relative who lost his life to a boobytrap in Baghdad. Anyone I have ever tried to talk to about the experience of combat did not have much to say. The ones who have actually seen killing and death in warfare don’t really like to talk about it very much. Most of them will tell you that once the shooting or bombing started, all the thoughts about courage and freedom and patriotism and flag-waving glory fell away.
What they ended up fighting for was each other, survival and the desire to make it home to see their loved ones again.
When I opened The Oklahoman on Monday, there were the faces of 18 fellow Oklahoman military members who had been killed in Afghanistan or Iraq in the last year. There was a 19th face of a soldier who had been killed on May 20 and a blurb — minus a photo — about a 23-year-old sailor who died just Saturday of wounds suffered in an attack in Afghanistan while most of us were shopping, firing up the barbeque grill or frolicking at the lake.
The youngest of these faces in the paper was of Army Pfc. Sarina Butcher of Checotah, Okla., age 19. She would was around only 10 years old when the war she died in began. The paper did not let on whether she died in Afghanistan or Iraq. The oldest was 37-year-old Army Staff Sgt. Kirk A. Owen from Sapulpa. Where and how he died was not revealed, either.
I honor these people and all the others who died in the wars as well, including the myriads of non-combatants who have been caught in the crossfire in Iraq and Afghanistan. I wish I could say I honored the mechanisms or the decisions of our national leaders who caused them to be involved in these wars.
Since the 1950s, one of the strategies of our political or military leaders has been to support dictators like Hussien or even militants like Bin Laden to preserve “American interests” or “stability in the region.” They have operated in part by the philosophy of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
The hell of it is that a nation simply cannot operate in these ways and not have the blood that has been unnecessarily spilled on its hands.
When we remember our veterans, we should remember that, too.
Scott Starr is a Native American studies senior.