I admit it, I read my Facebook newsfeed. On frequent occasions, I am moved to tears by the video of a member of our armed forces surprising his loved ones as he returns safe and sound from a combat zone. What a happy occasion, even when it’s arranged by a ratings-hungry local TV station in conjunction with military public affairs. It usually makes its way from the news to YouTube to social media. We share in the emotional exhilaration as the missing soldier comes back unharmed to his life at home.
What we see much less of, almost none of, is the homecoming of those who have been severely maimed in combat. Occasionally, we are allowed to show the coffins arriving at Dover, Delaware, but it’s rare that we see those returning who will spend the rest of their days with a debilitating injury.
They are the ones, and there are thousands, as we know, we need to remember as we mark the Memorial Day period. They are the casualties we need to remember the next time we hear some politician trying to score sound-bite points with seemingly carefree but careless calls to march off to another war.
Many of these blowhards are the same ones who now admit that the action in Iraq was a mistake, a tragic waste, as they say, of American lives and treasure. Even the brother of the president who ordered the invasion (at the behest of his vice president), even Jeb Bush had to admit that it might not have been a good idea. Of course, he had an embarrassing struggle spitting out the words, but it doesn’t matter. This is not about election positioning, it’s about making a momentous, disastrous decision that was about politics, with little regard to the human consequences.
That experience and the Vietnam War a generation ago have at least one thing in common: We were lied to by those who had one ambition or another. They also weakened the United States, squandering credibility that would be useful now as we confront a vicious enemy that is potentially a bigger threat to the U.S. than either North Vietnam and the Viet Cong or Saddam Hussein. ISIS, or whatever we call the insane extremists in the Mideast, benefits from a military response from the West that is tentative. Robust action is probably necessary if we are to stop these crazies as they rampage through Iraq and Syria before following through on their threats to attack this country. But we are a war-weary nation, so our leaders have to tiptoe around instead of confronting these brutally effective forces of evil.
Still, those who inhabit the campaign trail, particularly those on the right side, try to outdo each other with their empty chest-beating than can only be described as warmongering. Rand Paul is a notable exception. He’s running as the GOP anti-war anti-candidate, trying to tap into the national battle fatigue. The rest still try to push our jingoistic buttons by displaying how tough they are with other people’s lives.
I mentioned Facebook. Every once in a while a glimmer of caution breaks though; I came across a poster someone had forwarded. It showed a Marine at a military funeral, handing the traditional folded Stars and Stripes to a little boy who had lost a parent in combat. The boy was crying. The wrenching picture was surrounded by the words “It’s called Memorial Day. Not National Barbecue Day.”
To most, the holiday is a three-day weekend, the unofficial start of summer. But to those who are dealing with the loss of a loved one or others struggling to get by with their shattered bodies and minds, it’s a remembrance of the true cost of war and a reminder not to rush into the next one.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.