This Memorial Day weekend, perhaps we all should do more than simply have a big cook-out to herald the start of summer, or watch the Indianapolis 500, or head to the mall for the usual holiday sales event. The United States just ended one unnecessary war that took the lives of 4,408 U.S. soldiers and more than 100,000 Iraqis. In Afghanistan, we have lost at least 1,851 members of the U.S. military and are still counting. That’s what Memorial Day is meant to commemorate – those who went off to war and never returned to us.
Yet, how many Memorial Day parades will there be this year? How many people will commemorate the holiday by visiting the graves of soldiers who have perished in America’s many wars? Who will visit veterans in VA hospitals? We all know the answer to each question…not that many people.
This week Jim Webb introduced a bill that in its own way also honors those who have died for the rest of us. The proposed legislation would require explicit congressional approval of future U.S. humanitarian or peacekeeping operations involving the military and likely hostilities. The measure would not apply to instances where there’s an imminent threat to the United States, U.S. allies or American citizens.
This bill is yet another attempt to walk the nation back to the original intent of the founding fathers – that the representatives of the people should hold the ultimate power to put American soldiers in harm’s way or involve the country in a war. Yes, there are times when the president as commander-in-chief has to act quickly and unilaterally, but the ability to do that has been abused too many times since World War II, to the point where twice presidents have involved the nation in conflicts based upon falsehoods and fabrications, the first time in Vietnam and now in Iraq. I won’t even go into Lebanon, Panama, and Grenada. The tiny fraction of the American population who serve and put their lives on the line for us deserve better.
We should also look at several other things that would make for a fairer military outcome in the future.
Let’s all admit that relying on an all-volunteer army is only feasible and socially fair in peacetime. When the president and Congress decide that the nation needs to mobilize for war, then we need to return to a draft lottery, one that will allow all segments of American society to participate in the sacrifice required by service in wartime, not a tiny fraction of the people.
Any war in the future should also be paid for by the generations that supposedly benefit from the conflict. No more wars paid for off-budget, the way the Bush administration hid the fiscal costs of its wars from the nation’s population. Estimates of the bill to taxpayers of the war in Iraq alone usually come in at at least $4 trillion dollars.
“The direct costs for the war were about $800 billion, but the indirect costs, the costs you can’t easily see, that payoff will outlast you and me,” said Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at American Progress. Caring for veterans alone, more than 2 million of them, could reach $1 trillion, according to Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
As for me this Memorial Day, I will fly the flag. I also will say a prayer for those who have died, both soldier and civilian, because of combat. I will remember with love my late first husband, a veteran of combat who returned home with his physical wounds healed but still wounded by PTSD. Perhaps on Monday, I’ll go by Salem’s VA hospital and visit someone there who has no family to visit them. What I won’t do is go shopping…