Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day 2012

This one is for “Uncle Dick”

It is the end of May, late spring, and in the U.S. we look forward to Summer and the unofficial beginning of the hot, hazy, crazy, lazy days. It is the end of May, and we also pause to remember those who payed the ultimate sacrifice for the nation.

It is Memorial Day, a day started in remembrance. It was started to remember the worst war that the US ever fought; the war we fought amongst ourselves. The very day was picked because no important battle of the Civil War was fought on May 30th.

Since its start in 1868 in the North (a little earlier in the South) we have held ceremonies to honor the men who lost lives in conflicts near and far.

Our men and women have fought, bled, and often died in many conflicts since 1868. There were conflicts with the first peoples, followed by the Spanish-American War.

The War with Spain no sooner ended then the US found itself embroiled in a war with one of the former Spanish possessions: The Philippines. Depending on whose history you follow this was either the Philippine Insurrection or Philippine-American War.

With the not-so-jolly little war in the PI barely completed with the crushing of the Moros in Mindanao, the US via Woodrow Wilson attempted to sit out the Great War.  But Imperial Germany was never one to keep neutrals neutral, and managed to drag Wilson into the fray. While US participation in World War I was minimal, it also was critical.

Wilson won the “War To End All Wars”; but in Paris, he and his contemporaries, lost the peace at the victor’s conference. The Paris Peace Conference was an oxymoron. It helped set the table for the next conflagration.

That war, Second World War, was just a continuation of the Great War; but on a much larger scale. For the US, WWII was the great trans-formative war. The US entered the conflict a great, if detached, power. It left the war as a Superpower; one of two. Through the sacrifice of hundred of thousands of US men and women the US became the military power without equal.

During the long cold peace after WWII, the US fought both the Korean and Vietnam Wars. These were deadly proxy wars between the US and the Soviet Union. The cost to the US in lives and treasure was significant. The cost to the Koreans and Vietnamese was catastrophic.

Besides Korea and Vietnam; there were numerous peripheral actions in flash points all over the world. The US acquitted itself well in Granada, but did not in Desert One (Iran) or at the Beirut Marine Barracks (Lebanon).

The disaster in Beirut, the use of asymmetrical tactics against the US Hegemon, was a taste of things to come. But before the US could truly understand how non-state actors had changed warfare, the US military got to do a victory lap in Iraq.

The Cold War had ended via political suicide of the Soviet Union, an act performed by the then Soviet leader Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev. A former Soviet client, Saddam Hussein, was causing problems for the world’s only hyperpower. The fall out, The First Gulf War, was last clear victory for US power in the 20th Century.

The turn of the millennium put an end to George Bush’s “New World Order,” as an even newer order founded on asymmetrical conflict took over. Both conflicts born in this era were murky, poorly thought-out affairs that appeared more to harm US interests than advance them.

The invasion and occupation of Iraq was more dubious of the two affairs. But even Afghanistan, the launch pad of the 9/11/01 attacks, was a conflict with little reason and even less rhyme.

The less said about Iraq, the better; the old meme of lions lead by jackasses does seem to be painfully appropriate though. In Iraq, our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coastgardmen, covered themselves in glory; whilst our leaders, both military and political, covered themselves in something much less fragrant.

Memorial Day 2012 finds our military frayed and over-extended. Iraq has been left mostly to its own devices and Afghanistan is being spun down as quickly as domestic politics will allow. Still, Osama Bin Laden, the architect of 9/11/01, is fish food, and Al Qaeda has been torn limb-from-limb (sometimes quite literally) by US drone strikes and other actions.

The price for these tactical victories has been steep. It is more than the flag-draped coffins, much more. It is the thousands of veterans returning without legs and or arms. It is the tens of thousands of veterans with traumatic brain injuries. It is the hundreds of thousands who have suffered the psychic injuries of war; many who will remain gravely wounded for the rest of their lives. I personally shudder at the thought of how many men and women have been permanently marked by PTSD in Iraq and Afghanistan. That is a casualty count that we have only begun to enumerate.

So when you raise beer or other drink in praise of the dawning Summer, give pause, give thought to those who will not be able to join you in that cooling drink. Remember them all, the men and women, who sacrificed for the nation. May their example inspire us all.
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