Memorial Day oft forgotten
Recent studies have revealed new findings about human memory — but I can’t remember what they were.
Memory is an indispensable asset in life, but its absence sometimes tells as much about what we value and what we’d rather ignore. Americans forgetting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is a good example. And ignoring the sacrifices, hardships, and injuries of our troops is something that even our Memorial Day celebration does not repair.
This forgetting of our wars and our troops just may be a sign, though, of our recognizing the horrors that are part of our war-making. Over 60 percent of Americans now say that the war in Afghanistan was not worth the price.
The debacle in Vietnam some years ago could have taught us a lesson we wouldn’t forget. The nation was torn as never before over exploits abroad that broke the rules of civility and betokened the reckless use of power.
Then came Iraq, with the loss of American lives and treasure, the killing of thousands of enemy and civilians, the destruction of civilian infrastructure, devastating outbreaks of sectarian violence, and the failure of the self-proclaimed greatest power on earth to crush an ill-chosen enemy. It was a war based on false premises (alleged weapons of mass destruction), outlandish goals (consolidating American hegemony in the Middle East) and misguided strategies (too many to mention).
As if that weren’t enough, Afghanistan would lure us to a delusional effort equally extreme. After wasting innumerable lives, the U.S. was to pay out $12 billion annually to train the Afghan army alone — a hopeless and impossible endeavor.
Despite the headlines about Defense Department spending cuts, President Obama has reassured the nation that the Pentagon budget would, in his words, “still grow, because we have global responsibilities that demand our leadership.” It is leadership to the throes of hell, and our memory has mostly failed. And yet, there are signs of hope.
Thomas Friedman points to the $1.3 billion worth of tanks and fighter jets we gave to Egypt’s military last year, but says that the $13.5 million in college scholarships we gave to Lebanon has won us much more friendship and stability than the tanks and fighter jets ever will. Scholarships to the Arab world will always trump the weapons.
Chicago’s Voices for Creative Nonviolence sponsored a protest at the May 20 NATO summit there, advocating the need to shift our social and economic priorities away from war production. “Our country is rotting away from the inside,” said one of the organizers. “There are not resources for education and health care, but we have unlimited resources for oppression and destruction abroad.”
On Jeju Island, off the coast of South Korea, the United States has begun to build a major naval base for nuclear-powered aircraft carriers that carry cruise missiles, which could one day be used to destroy Chinese ICBMs. Over the past five years, a daily, heroic campaign of nonviolent resistance has been waged against the weapons, U.S. imperialism, basic injustice and environmental destruction of one of the world’s natural wonders. Thousands of church leaders have joined massive citizen resistance, in the face of the extreme and oppressive construction project. One can visit the Save Jeju Island Campaign website to join the efforts of these heroic islanders.
So our memories have shrunk like clothes in a drier. But new awareness has appeared nonetheless. Wars will always be horrors we’d rather forget. And the violence we fail to curtail will beckon the true heroes, calling us to one day put an end to it all.
Kozeny has worked as a teacher, counselor, and in pastoral ministry. He can be reached by e-mail to email@example.com.