Monday, May 26, 2008

Gold stars

“The world should know of those who give so much for liberty. The dearest thing in all the world to a father and mother — their children.”

On September 24, 1917, about seven weeks before the end of World War I, an Ohio congressman read that into the Congressional Record to announce Ohio’s adoption of flags adorned with stars, blue or gold, to denote a family member either serving in the armed forces, or one who had fallen in service to the country.

According to the icasualties Web site of civilian and coalition casualties in Iraq, 4,081 Americans have died in the war in Iraq as of today, Memorial Day 2008.

In a world of 24/7 noise, it's gotten too easy to conflate "Memorial Day" with the mercantile tendencies of our culture. The word "sale" is so frequently attached to "Memorial Day," it's led to a reflex of forgetfulness. We plan the day, we itemize the shopping list, we navigate the traffic, lamenting the cost of gas to get where we're going and back. It's all about the Big Day Off.

We sometimes forget those sacrifices made on our behalf. In two world wars, two conflicts smaller in scope but just as tragic for the families who survived, and a number of other conflicts of the last century, too many paid dearly, finally, for what we've come to take for granted.

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Now, with the news of the latest American fatalities in Iraq reduced to crawl lines on the cable channels, with the war subsumed into the vast media maw (except for today, of course), we've begun to take those who make those sacrifices in Iraq for granted.

It is a sense of disposabiilty that began at the highest levels of government, when American forces were committed to a war that has long had dwindling support among the American people, a war whose foundational pretext was not only flawed but fictitious, a war whose prosecution is costing this nation its greatest treasure, the lives memorialized by the gold stars now hanging in more than 4,000 American homes.

On Memorial Day it's a given, right and proper and basic to our citizenship, that we remember those throughout our history who paid the highest and worst possible price to make our barbecues, our benign stadium flyovers and ball games, our good times, not just possible but something we feel we're entitled to.

This Memorial Day, our sixth of an elective war that is bankrupting our future and brutalizing the greatest army in the world, it's also right — it's necessary — to remember those who shouldn't have had to face paying that price at all.
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