Today, Memorial Day, a day set aside to honor those who have died in my country’s many, many wars, I am publishing the same post on both this blog and my wounded warrior wife blog.
I grew up with images of fire hoses turned on protestors. Helmeted men on horseback beating those willing to put their bodies on the line for change. Napalmed children screaming on dirt roads. Boys who, a couple years earlier, sat beside me in Mrs. Conner’s fourth period English or Mr. Cobine’s American Civics class, returned from Vietnam as long-haired wanderers. My sisters fiancée returned from Hamburger Hill in a box. A sealed box.
It was common, in those days, to see Cronkite or Huntley report on a flag-draped funeral. God, how I hated all that fluttering red, white, and blue, lined up in a row, the snap of the bigger flag in the distance, bugles and fly-overs and folded triangles of pretend honor.
What I could never understand was why the widow or daughter or mother sat quietly in the midst of this glorification, not of her husband or father or son, but of the nationalism that killed the one she loved. As though it wasn’t enough that the military took her loved one, they even preempted the damn funeral.
Sometimes, in special cases or when the public’s attention needed to be turned from whatever crisis of leadership was happening at the moment, the president attended these glorifications. Those of you who lived through these years, watched on nineteen-inch black and white consoles, do you remember the moment when the sharp color guard handed that folded flag to the woman left behind?
Why didn’t that bereaved woman stand, walk to the president and punch him in his fat nose? Why didn’t she rip the fluttering flags from the walkway, throw rocks at the bugler and kick the holy shit out of the honor guard?
So help me God, if I never see a flag of any variety for the rest of my life, it would be fine and good with me. There’s more than one way to love your country. I live with a wounded warrior. The tattered flag that wraps his country’s glorification of war and honor of its veterans has long grown thread bare. The bloody thing reeks of betrayal.
I cannot say this enough. If you want to honor veterans, forget flags and parades. Provide troops with what they need to do the God-awful job you’ve given them in whatever foreign country you’ve decided needs invading. Cough up the money for the best care possible when they return to us with traumatic brain injuries and PTSD and do it quickly, not after they’ve spent a half-dozen years in misery while you paw through the files and hum and haw about each dollar to which they’re entitled. Give them the newest and best fake arms to hold their lovers and children. Pay to renovate their homes for that new wheel chair they’ll need.
Most importantly, if you want to honor our veterans, stop, for the love of God, stop sending them to war.