Monday, May 30, 2005

Memorial Day, 2005 - It’s Not All About the Numbers

Memorial Day. We take a moment to consider those who have sacrificed their lives, so we may have our freedoms. It is difficult, however, to grasp being without such things as the 1st Amendment of the Constitution, and so many other things we enjoy every moment of our lives in the United States. The ABC Nightline program will be presenting the picture and reading the name of each of the American service personnel who have most recently been those who have fallen for our privileges. As many would put it, it seems anti-military. I’m not a fan of the press’ urge to present the negative of just about anything related to our casualties, mostly because, as I heard it put this morning, the “CIE” (context is everything) issue. We honor our war dead, but if this is not presented with the backdrop of what the “ultimate sacrifice” brings, and therefore, it does appear senseless. When researching the topic of genocide in 1987 for a philosophy class, it was made clear to me, that, very much like the numbers we are presented with such as “Over 1600 dead in the War on Terror,” we really don’t grasp it. We can intellectually understand the Hitler had 6 million Jews murdered in the death camps of Europe. What our mind is too finite to grasp, is the name and history of each of those people. Certainly, they had families, jobs, hobbies, interests, friends, a place they lived and things they had been experienced, that was unique to them. I guess I can best say it as though, for all the majesty of the brain’s storage capacity, it’s too much to fathom, much like getting that “You don’t have enough memory to run this application” error in Windows. Different from our computers, we can’t run out to Best Buy and buy a stick of RAM to upgrade with. We can envision the family down the street, killed when a tractor – trailer runs a red light. We have the capacity to hold on to the images an d words that named the people and defined their lives. It’s the larger numbers of names that baffle us subconsciously. Given this is a common phenomena across humanity, we find it easy to be “clinical” about large groups of people who have suffered, be it Indonesians or Thais after a tsunami, or the Jews who died at Dachau, not even to mention those who died in Auschwitz, and the many other concentration camps of western Europe, the gulags of Siberia, and the killing fields of Cambodia. Many websites around the country have done excellent jobs paying tribute to the now dead men and women of the Global War on Terror. Some sites are for individuals, others, such as Black Five and Mudville Gazette to name just two of the many, cover many of the stories of these people, including, in many cases both the heroism in combat, the solemn times of the funerals, and sometimes, the notes from parents and friends, and comrades from the fields of battle, speaking to us, putting these dead into the context of their lives. I think the only way we can attempt to understand how to thoughtfully honor those who have paid the price, is to look carefully at their pictures, which captures them forever young, to concentrate on their name as it is read, and to listen carefully to their hometown being called out. If these are the only bits of information we can glean, to personally memorialize the reality of these men and women, then we should grasp it while we have the opportunity. If you can add to that, the stories such as the one presented in today’s Parade Magazine about Corporal Jason Dunham, USMC, who covered a dropped grenade with his Kevlar helmet and held it down, in order to save his fellow Marines on April 14th, 2002, we help to put faces on those “numbers,” in past and present wars and conflict, who gave us all they had, thereby putting things in context. In the Bangor, ME Airport Terminal, where a dedicated group of local citizens greet our incoming and outgoing service members, there is a board, where the pictures of the dead are placed. The Soldiers and Marines see their fellow servicemen and speak make testimonies to these people's lives, as their moment of honor. From what I have read, it is a place treated with the respect it is meant to have. Respect, in the case of the profession of arms, may be tears, a statment of character, maybe vows of the living to never forget and to do what this person can no longer do, and it sometimes is a shared story in the form of a a practical joke that was played, and with laughter. All of it is honoring. The Nightline presentation by Ted Koppel gives us this opportunity, which is no different than a reading of the names of the 9/11/2001 victims. It is up to us to place this in context when we hear a list like this. I can't recall which of the great philosphers it was, either Plato or Aristotle, and I'm a little too lazy to find out which one right now, discussed the issue of the "intent" and the "outcome" of any action we take. While many things, beginning with good intention go far from the mark, many things with bad intention come out being very much for the good. Our judicial system relies on the inspection of the outcome, and sometimes mitigates punishment based on the extenution of the intent. I'd like the reading of the names and the showing of the pictures of these we know to honor to have any negative effect on recruiting, public opinion, nor the support of the troops, yet I cannot control how everyone will react. But I have hope, that many people will sit and watch and, in spite of not agreeing with the path this conflict has taken, they will be moved that our youth and some not so young in age anymore, have chosen to defend that which is good, the cause of freedom. It is in these moments, we can try to have our frail minds absorb the names, and not the numbers of those who have so honored us in these times, and the past.

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