While looking at the local paper on Memorial Day, reading a page with photos and brief—all-too-brief—bios of people I never knew and will never know, something struck me. Those bios are otherwise known as "obituaries." The listing was of those from Michigan who have been killed in the line of duty in Iraq. There were teens who were still fighting acne. There were men in their late 40's whose kids are probably beyond Clearasil. There were women who left their children behind. And what for? What about their husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, grandparents, friends? Don't they deserve to know why—really know why they've suffered the loss?
There are hundreds—no, thousands—of women and men whose lives have been profoundly altered by the fighting in Iraq, people whom most of us don't know, people who aren't necessarily the stuff of newspapers, people who have been maimed. They've lost limbs. They've lost their eyesight. They've lost major portions of their bodies. What of them? What will become of them? Will they be supported by the government that sent them to fight, or will that government simply push for another tax cut and leave these women and men to deal with "market forces," as though Adam Smith's Invisible Hand will do anything but point to the door? What of them?
It is sad. Very sad. Sad that many of us don't think of these people unless it is Memorial Day. Unless we hear of a news correspondent who has been shredded with shrapnel. Unless we know one of these people.
Yes, we need a military. We need brave women and men to protect us from enemies who want to kill us. People who will stand in our defense and sometimes die doing so.
Remember when Colin Powell spoke of the Pottery Barn scenario: "You break it. You own it."? While that goes largely forgotten, isn't that where we really are in Iraq, with a situation that we've broken and now are trying to reassemble many of the bits? We hear about fighting the war on terrorism. Is that what is really happening in Iraq? We hear about the need to spread democracy. Isn't democracy (demos: the ordinary people of a place, not outsiders) something that is intrinsic, not imposed?
Our president tells graduating cadets at West Point that the war began on his watch and it will end on theirs. This is not the first time he's pointed out that he's started something that he won't finish. His father made it very clear when he had American troops come to the defense of an ally that he wouldn't go into Iraq without a clear exit strategy. The son evidently didn't learn very well from his dad.
And I think of those children whose dads are now gone, or whose dads are now without arms to hug them.
And I wonder why.