Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day

Happy Memorial Day!

According to Wikipedia, Memorial Day has been observed in America for almost 150 years, beginning after the Civil War as Decoration Day, a day established by an organization of Union veterans to honor Union soldiers by decorating their graves with flowers.  As time passed, the day evolved into one in which all veterans of all wars were honored.

Unfortunately, also per Wikipedia, there are plenty of war deaths to honor; approximately 1.5 million fatalities, in addition to another 1.5 million wounded or missing.  Interestingly, while many more American lives were lost during the American Civil War (upwards of 750,000, compared to 400,000 in WW2), there were more military lives lost in combat during World War 2, about 300,000 compared to the Civil War (a little over 210,000).  Similarly, and perhaps surprisingly, twice as many Americans lost their lives during the Revolutionary War outside of combat (17,000) as in combat (only 8,000).  Of course, we don't note method of death on our veterans graves, don't separate those that died from gunfire from those who died of starvation or disease. 

One can easily conclude from a quick perusal of the death and injured charts, that we have seen a tremendous advance in our ability to treat and save the lives of our injured warriors.  Up until the 20th century, more deaths occurred in war than injuries, presumably because the injured died of their wounds before treatment or transport to medical facilities was possible.  During the World Wars, more were injured than dead, and by the Korean and Vietnam Wars that ratio grew to 3 to 1.  Now, statistics from our latest conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate just how advanced our in-field medical technology has advanced as only one in nine injured soldiers die of their wounds.

Of course, the scale of wars America has been involved in has no comparison today than during our very worst war, against ourselves, and in the World Wars of the 20th century.  Literally hundreds of deaths occurred to Americans per day in those conflicts; over 400 per day during the Civil War, and almost 300 per day during the World Wars.  Imagine that, each and every day for years at a time, hundreds of American families lost a loved one.  Perhaps the good news is that only 11 or so deaths occurred per day during Vietnam, yet those deaths spurred everyday Americans to question the legitimacy of our involvement in that conflict.

At this point, many people forget that the Iraq-Afghanistan is the longest running war in American history recently surpassing the Vietnam War.  Perhaps because ONLY 1.5 soldiers have died in the years since 2001 during this war, and only dozens in that last few years, we seem to have forgotten that we are at war at all.  Sad that, except for the occasional politically driven headline about the state of our VA hospitals and the care being given, we also seem to have forgotten about the 50,000+ injured men and women that have resulted from our excursions into those countries. 

While our ability to wage war has increased dramatically, as evidenced by our use of drones to target those we have determine should die, we, at least as of now, are limiting the number of boots on the ground in the Middle East.  Perhaps America has lost her taste for continued deaths of our citizens overseas.  Perhaps we tire of being the world's policemen. 

Still, it is apparent from the recent success of the two presumptive presidential candidates, that use of force is not still attractive when dealing with our enemies.  Hillary Clinton, whether due to the pressures of needing to seem tough in order to get elected as a woman, or whether she truly believes in the use of force, is certainly no dove.  And Donald Trump seems to have never met a reason not to bully or strike back, or a weapon not to be used, when dealing with an adversary he doesn't like or an idea not his own.  

While we wring our hands over the prospect of a nuclear Iran or a North Korean spasm, we applaud certain statements that seem to suggest that we will use force, any force, we deem necessary to stop evil.  What is truly sad is that in 2008 when President Obama was elected, we were knee deep in military deaths.  We elected someone who sought diplomacy before conflict, who seemed to value the lives of those who chose to serve in our military by NOT sending them to die in foreign lands.  For his efforts, he is now accused by some to have made America impotent in the face of ISIS and the various other crazies like them.  Strange that they blink past the needless money and American lives that have been wasted in the Middle East, seeking to double down by spending even more resources and wasting even more lives.  All while we vote with flag in hand and patriotic pin on lapel to spend over $600 billion dollars a year on our military while our public schools strain to pay the bills, and our college graduates face tens of thousands of dollars in debt once they leave school. 

Memorial Day is, and should be about honoring those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for America and for its citizens.  But I hope that there might come a day when it also reminds people of the strength and sacrifice it takes to NOT use violence to solve one problems, whether those problems be personal or national.  To honor those who have died for our country by resorting to violence only as a last resort, not first thought.  To make the meaning of Memorial Day more than remembering those who died but about preventing those deaths in the first place.

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