Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Memorial Day, 2004

This Memorial Day held deeper significance for me than usual. The dedication of the WWII Memorial reminded me of my dad and how he'd be pleased they'd built such a thing. He wouldn't have gone to see it, but he would have been pleased. He'd always hoped to go back to Europe before he died. Unfortunately, he ran out of time. Left in his passing are some really nifty photos he took while he was near Luxemburg in an Artillery unit, just GI's hanging together in a foreign country near the end of the war.

The other reason is that picture of the military cargo plane full of flag-draped coffins that was on the front page of the papers a few weeks ago. It reminds me that we're losing people daily in Iraq and Afghanistan. Every soldier's loss resonates throughout a family for decades. With every one we should be asking, "Is this worth it?" It's a question we have to answer, not our government, for ultimately we should BE the conscience of our elected officials.

And since I mentioned my father, one of the more poignant tales he told me about his war experience was about the Russian POW's. After the war ended, they were being marched back home after surviving the German POW camps. Someone asked one of them, through an interpreter, whether he was happy to be going home. He said no. He (and the others) feared what Stalin would do to them. That made no sense to the Americans. But the Russian's concerns proved valid when Stalin had the former prisoners of war locked up as traitors. The majority of them died in prison camps within their own country.

The lesson, I think, is that democracy is a tenuous thing. It can be as strong as steel but slowly be weakened over time even by the best intentions. Our job is to keep vigilant. To say someone is unpatriotic because he/she questions the motive and actions of our leaders is abhorrent. A democracy has to be open or it isn't a democracy. Often the open dialog creates rifts and brings unpleasant matters to the surface, but that's the way it has to be. A secretive government only works to its own benefit, not to that of its citizens. If allowed to run 'under the radar' for too long, you begin to fear your leaders, just like the Russians. For those who believe such a thing can't happen in America, history proves otherwise.

Everytime I think of those flag-draped coffins, I am reminded the cost of preserving a democracy -- it's damned high and getting higher every day.

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