Do We Care? I think we do.

Turners Falls HS Marching Band 

Turners Falls Marching Band in Memorial Day parade 2007  

This has been bugging me for a long time so I thought today was as good a day as any to get into it. According to Bob Schieffer, reporting on Face the Nation this morning, there have been almost 4000 American soldiers killed and over 90 thousand wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Many of the wounded have severe injuries that will affect the rest of their lives in a profound way.  

War Dead Memorial 2007

Turners Falls memorial to those lost in the war.  

As this war has dragged on and debates rage, the suggestion that Americans are not really personally engaged  the way they’ve been in the past has been put forth by some politicians.  They compare it to Vietnam with all those people in the streets.  They suggest that it’s because there is no draft and so most people who are not connected to the military simply don’t care.  The criticism has abated a bit lately.  Perhaps that’s because it might be unseemly for a politician to suggest, during a presidential election, that the people don’t really care.  Still the thought lingers, and is implied whenever people note that life here goes on as usual and the war seems not to affect the lives of everyday Americans.  Which is probably true.  I imagine, especially to a soldier coming home after a tour in Iraq, that the degree to which life here is unchanged must feel a bit of a slap in the face.

Our government has asked nothing of the average American while asking a great deal of those in the military.  The policy of the Bush administration of demanding that no pictures of coffins returning from the war be shown has contributed to the sense of isolation of military families.  Keeping these images out of the major media coverage of this war insulates the public from the consequences of war.  For reporters, covering the war in Iraq is difficult.  A significant number of  journalists have lost their lives in this war.  Their bravery is noted by the media, as well it should be, and I don’t think the media fails to cover the brave soldiers fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan but still, the thought persists that Americans don’t feel the losses as personally as they should.   

Senator Stanley Rosen addresses the crowd.

State Senator Stanley Rosenberg addressed the crowd.

I do hope that the 2006 election where those opposing the Bush war policy won a lot of races in Congress did something to show that Americans are engaged and do care.  I find here in my small town in Western Massachusetts that many people are strongly connected to the war and do care deeply about the soldiers and their families.  It was clearly on display this past Memorial Day when the people of Turners Falls showed up to honor those who fought bravely for their country.  

I thought it might be interesting to show what the town has done to honor those lost in the Iraq war.  It started with a Vietnam vet putting flags on a hill behind the town’s war memorial, one flag for each American soldier killed.  As the war went on and the deaths added up, townspeople donated time and money to help with a task that had grown beyond anything this veteran had imagined.  By the time we got to Memorial Day 2007, there were 3, 845 flags planted in the grass behind the stone memorials honoring the dead of earlier wars. 

 memorial-day-kids.gif

Even the kids got into the act. 

I find people here care and also support those families who have loved ones fighting in this war.  That does not mean they are unified in their support of the war.  A WWII veteran of 85 years told me he had serious doubts about the war.  He had been on the shores of Normandy during the invasion.  He was a true patriot.  You don’t have to be for the war to be a patriot, and you don’t have to march to make your voice heard.  In fact, what is truly different between then and now is that in 1968 we had to go out into the streets to get our voices heard.  Young men were being drafted to fight in a war they couldn’t even vote against because while they could be drafted at 18 they couldn’t vote until they were 21.  That simple change in the law, made after the war ended, made all the difference in the world.  It’s not just that we have no draft, it’s also that we don’t need to march against the war because we can vote for the people who represent our views, and thankfully, there are a great many of those willing to run for election and stand up against the powerful groups that support this war.  What we have to do is make sure we tell them what we want and let them know when we like what we do.  It’s not enough to complain when we object, we must also let those who stand for what we believe in that we are behind them.  That will empower our representative to be ever more bold in what they do.  And that will be good for us all. 

Ellen Blanchette, Sunday, March 2, 2008

 

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