What Memorial Day Means to Me
Instead, he sent Dick "Five Deferments" Cheney, which was kind of like sending Jack the Ripper to Lilith Fair.
The choice of sending Cheney was an odd one, considering his craven refusal to get drafted, even going as far as to impregnate his wife Lynn so he could weasel out for the fifth time. Bush laying the wreath himself was audacious, considering the champagne flight playboy joined the Texas Air National Guard to himself avoid getting sent to Vietnam. After all that money spent and all that media exposure from the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth strenuously trying to get us to believe that Bush was the real military man and Kerry just an imposter and Bush couldn't be bothered to go to the Tomb of the Unknowns on his last Veteran's Day as Commander in Chief.
Nothing seemed right about that administration, starting with its legitimacy (You may remember Bush got pelted with eggs on January 20, 2001 by people who knew the election was stolen, making W break from Presidential tradition before he was even sworn in and was forced to ride instead of walk down Pennsylvania Ave.). There was this odd detachment on the part of the administration that ignored Richard Clarke's warnings about al Qaida, ignored warnings from several nations and its own Central Intelligence Agency that an attack by bin Laden's people, and where and how, was in the works. There was a strange detachment on the part of Dick Cheney, he who infamously said that "deficits don't matter."
An administration and, as it would prove, a greatly bloated government, was fully in place, the transition had proceeded smoothly, much more smoothly than the chaotic Clinton transition eight years before but at the same time there was something that wasn't right about our White House. It was like looking at a hyper realistic wax mannequin from a distance. It looked right, but one harbored increasingly uneasy doubts it would actually move.
Then on September 11th, 2001, after essentially a sleepy, uneventful first 8 1/2 months, America changed forever and not for the better.
The administration that didn't care to hear reports that bin Laden was "determined to strike" within our borders suddenly got very concerned about al Qaida and showed it by attacking two sovereign nations where al Qaida's leader was not. Like a crow on a dunghill, Bush blared platitudes from a bullhorn atop the rubble of the first and most catastrophic failure of his "presidency" and we declared him a conquering hero and gave him 90+% approval ratings simply because he was the boob in the Oval Office.
So, when we sent too few troops to pacify a nation whose military was nonexistent but whose insurgents were very good, indeed, when we were told by bozos like Wolfowitz the war would cost a billion dollars tops and would be paid for by Iraq's oil industry, when that billion dollar war turned into a multi trillion dollar boondoggle in which contractors were spoiled and pampered like royalty while our troops, without adequate vehicle armor or adequate body armor were getting slaughtered, when Bush essentially put the entire Constitution, and our rights and civil liberties, into suspended animation, we trusted him, a guy who couldn't even eat a pretzel without adult supervision.
And the few of us who railed against this were called traitors, seditionists, fifth columnists, terrorists. Because most of us fell into Bush's reductionist and paranoid, "If you're not with us, you're against us" mindset.
And then Dick Cheney. of all people, was sent to the Tomb of the Unknowns to lay a wreath. By this time, Bush was plainly phoning it in, most of his time spent, it now seems, in looking over a growing list of felons he could pardon in his last days in office. He'd had enough and was very akin to Wilfred Owen's "devil sick of sin."
And nothing is ever learned. We lay wreaths, watch wreaths being laid by statesmen who'd never served in the military, put up flags, set off fireworks, gorge ourselves with barbecued animal carcasses, drink to excess and say stupid things to each other such as, "Happy Memorial Day," blithely forgetting the fact it's not supposed to be happy and isn't to many families who had lost loved ones to war.
And few, if any, of us realize on Memorial Day that due to old men, oil cartels and the diktats of the Military Industrial Complex who gasp for air in peacetime, more and more families across America will be visiting cemeteries, looking at and receiving triangular folded flags and forlornly looking at the eternally empty spaces in beds and dinner tables.
Nothing is learned. Like Charlie Brown, like a PT Barnum audience, we keep getting suckered into supporting another war, another police action, another corporate intervention dressed up as something vitally necessary and patriotic. No war is ever too expensive until the VA medical bills start coming in, when veteran's mortgages are foreclosed on, when veterans wind up on the streets and can't find jobs. Then, suddenly, the Republican Party starts waving price tags around and saying, "We can't afford this!" while lobbying for yet another round of tax cuts for the wealthy and taking hostages until they get it.
And honorable, truly honorable men like Gen. Smedley Butler and his jeremiad against war and the reasons for it, is someone well known only to a handful of liberals who remember what a democracy is supposed to stand for.