Patriotic Americans honor the sacrifice of our nation's military without glorifying war. Not always as easy or as clear a distinction to make as it sounds. It can be a short leap from commemorating soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to valorizing every conflict. And not one we should automatically make, because it softens us up for the next war. Which is always waiting around the corner, and easier to start if we feel it's necessary, by definition, because they're always necessary, even laudable.
MEMORIAL DAY 2008
We arrived early at the parade this year, setting up our blue canvas folding chairs along Cherry Street, staking out a good spot.
We needn't have bothered -- when the parade began, a half-hour later, there was still plenty of open curb space. The neighborhood certainly wasn't jamming the route.
We're a nation at war, I thought, as the well-scrubbed fire trucks strobed by. Yet we don't act that way.
Maybe that's a function of living in a leafy suburban paradise like Northbrook. Not exactly a military town. We enjoy the benefits, but the price is being paid by someone else.
After the fire trucks, the vets, carrying the banner of the George W. Benjamin American Legion Post 791. As they approached, those lining both sides of the street stood up and applauded.
Two marching bands — from the junior high school and the high school — a troop of Boy Scouts and of Brownies and then it was over. Eight minutes, start to finish.
Afterward, my wife and I went to the park at the center of town, to hear the speeches and sing "The Star-Spangled Banner."
As the speakers spoke of honor and sacrifice, I held my notebook. But I only jotted down one sentence.
"Every military casualty of every war has contributed to our freedom," said Maj. Gen. Clifton Capp (Retired).
I rolled that sentence over in my mind all the lovely Monday afternoon, sitting on my front porch, watching the flag undulate in the spring sunshine, trying to pick apart what it means.
It's the safe view, of course. Every soldier a hero, every skirmish important, every war unavoidable.
And as long as it is relegated to the past, you can't argue it — nobody wants to question the value of sacrifice.
But buried in there is a troubling implication — the suggestion that every time the military is sent somewhere to fight, our freedom is on the line. That's certainly what supporters of the war in Iraq seem to believe. But is it true, or is it circular logic? Are we fighting in Iraq because our freedom is on the line? Or do we feel our freedom is on the line in Iraq because we're fighting there?
—Originally published in the Sun-Times, May 28, 2008