Nowadays, Memorial Day is largely a social opportunity for most Americans, a day away from work, the official starter's pistol of summer. We head for the lake, for the cottage up north, Grandma's house and spend the day grilling burgers and dogs, drinking beer, swimming, enjoying the sunshine. While this is a valid way to spend the day, we're pretty far removed from the original intention of the holiday. In fact, Memorial Day began back in the 1860's in Waterloo, NY near where I grew up. Back then, there weren't nearly as many veterans and war deaths to recognize and commemorate. Today, we annually acknowledge well over 1 million fallen soldiers since the American Revolution. Most recently, we remember the 2500 US and coalition soldiers who've died and 18,000 who've been injured 'freeing' Iraq. We also remember the 26 million veterans of past conficts living in our communities.
There is no greater sacrifice than to give one's life. I respect and ackmowledge this sacrifice made by so many American men and women during the brief history of our country. The part where I begin to have trouble is the 'for our country' or 'for our freedom' implication. I'm afraid that the national pride and glorification of war drummed up on Memorial Day serve only to blind us to many of the realities of our losses. To me, many of our military men and women were and are asked to give their time, effort and life for causes that are unjust, greedy, egomaniacal, fascist and evil. Our present occupation of Iraq is the best example of this.
As we remember our lost brothers and sisters today, we'll participate in parades, listen to speeches, wave flags, play taps, put stickers on our bumpers. We should also realize that there are more important, more meaningful, more tangible ways to pay our respects to our brothers and sisters in the military and to their surviving families. Let's make sure they receive benefits and access resources they need and deserve. Instead, our current administration reduces benefits and makes the difficult job of acquiring promised benefits even more impossible. President Bush believes the Veteran's Administration is akin to a 'welfare system' (which is apparently a bad thing) and reduces its efficacy at every opportunity. According to today's Boston Globe:
Bush, who sends soldiers to risk their lives every day in Iraq, strongly supports rescinding the lifetime healthcare benefits promised to WWII and Korean veterans. His proposed budgets, despite dollar amount increases, don't factor in inflation or the increasing numbers of veterans needing healthcare, and thus have repeatedly failed to fully fund benefits to the men and women who have served our country.
Consequently, VA hospitals and clinics have closed, many veterans' healthcare programs have been cut back or eliminated, entire groups of vets have been denied eligibility for service, and those that are eligible may wait months and even years for appointments and necessary surgeries at the remaining VA facilities.
But the president lectures us about the importance of supporting our troops.
The best way to truly honor our veterans and our fallen soldiers is to support them during and after their service and sacrifice. Instead of allowing our government to continually do less, let's require them to do more. Taps and flag waving are nice, but it doesn't pay the bills or ease the pain.
Have a safe, enjoyable and thoughtful Memorial Day.
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