Friday, May 28, 2010
I rarely watch TV news so I don't really know how much time is being spent focused on President Obama's Memorial Day activities. I hope it's not much, because it is surely not a newsworthy item.
It seems that, like President George H.W. Bush before him, Obama is sending his vice president to Arlington National Cemetery next Monday. The president will be in Chicago and will visit a national cemetery there. Some people are trying to make a big deal out of this but I won't link to them here because I don't want to drive a single extra reader toward this one more shining example of what is so wrong with our politics.
On the same day that news of the 1,000 American casualty in Afghanistan was published we're supposed to be worried about what cemetery the president will visit to honor America's war dead on Memorial Day?
I have ancestors buried in the national cemetery in Chattanooga -- veterans of World War I. As far as I know, no American president has ever visited that cemetery. Does that make the sacrifices of those buried there less significant? Would they be elevated in death beyond what they were in life if a president did lay a wreath there? Will their deaths mean any less because President Obama visits a national cemetery in Illinois rather than one in Virginia next week? Were dead veterans dishonored when Vice President Dan Quayle went to Arlington National Cemetery each Memorial Day during the first President Bush's term of office in place of the president?
Honestly, none of those questions makes any sense at all.
The real question to be asked on Memorial Day is this: why are young men still dying in Afghanistan and Iraq?
To ask that does not dishonor their service. It is, in fact, the only question that does justice to their continued sacrifice. For if we cannot ask the central questions of our time and discuss and debate them in civil and substantial terms then nothing they have done will amount to anything more than sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Those who would distract us from that central question are the ones who dishonor the memory and the service of the men and women we remember on Memorial Day.