I’m writing on Memorial Day 2011, a particularly confusing Memorial Day for me. I’m experiencing a shifting mixture of pride and bewilderment. Yesterday, I was out with my peace sign again as I have been these many years, glad of the appreciative honks, accepting of the occasional curse and upraised finger. This is the third generation of signs. The snow and rain and the odd angle it rests in the back of my car obviously takes a toll.

“Support our Troops: It’s Time to Come Home.” It took a while to figure out what I wanted to say. It helped that I knew some of our soldiers personally. Knowing what kind of thoughtful and caring people they are, aware of their hopes and dreams, and their willingness to serve despite the great risks they faced, it wasn’t difficult to declare my support for them. And yet I always believed they were going off to fight unnecessary, politically motivated wars.

It doesn’t really matter what you call them. Our Republican President Eisenhower identified them clearly enough: “a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions … the military/industrial complex.” They are the guys who make a fabulous living waging war. They are the ones who send others to do the fighting yet make a bundle. They own the companies that make the bombs, the Bradley fighting vehicles, the Predator drones. The more you use. The more you lose. The more they make. Eisenhower warned: “We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.”

In bunkers far from the battles, the Rusks and Kissingers, your Rumsfelds and Bushes, and now your Clintons and Obamas sell us The War That Never Ends. And give these modern day Mad Men credit. How many Americans had even heard of Vietnam? Yet somehow it became crucial to the survival of Americans everywhere from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

The Domino Theory? If Vietnam falls, Asia falls, Europe falls, and so goes Scarsdale, then Schenectady. We know now that the evil Soviet Empire was crumbling under the weight of its own stupidity and arrogance: thinking it could control the hearts of minds of Hungarians and Czechs and Poles, all the while diverting precious monies from schools and services to build a military machine. How could we be so easily hornswaggled into sending our young men and women across the world to fight in someone else’s civil war? Sounds lame. Well, these guys know how to convince us: a phony North Vietnamese Gulf of Tonkin attack on an American vessel in international waters.

Did Colin Powell really hold up a vial of anthrax at the United Nations? Show us pictures of the mobile chemical labs? How often did Cheney and President Bush tell us about the Iraqi “Weapons of Mass Destruction?” I’m sorry if this sounds like I’m being flippant: but sometimes real life seems to me suspiciously like really bad TV: The Bachelor and Bachelorette Go To Baghdad. And it didn’t take long before WMD replaced MLB and NBC as America’s most used initials. The wrong war. The wrong reasons. And yet politicians on the take sent other people’s sons and daughters to die.

So we parade down our Main Streets and honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. We’re going to pause and reflect on those we’ve lost. We’re also going to spend another day allowing politicians to pontificate in public places about how much we love our veterans. Hoping no one remembers that they voted against money for the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, for the VA. Hoping no one has noticed that the suicide rate for our soldiers keeps on increasing. Or that all the talk about deficit reduction really translates into less money for keeping our promises to these very same servicemen and women. Hoping no one interrupts their self-important speeches to call them hypocrities.

I don’t mean to be cruel. But we are all suffering from a new kind of social disorder. We have completely compartmentalized war. We’ve allowed a few of us to fight our wars, to kill and be killed, to wound and be wounded. To be psychologically scarred for life, while the rest of us live lives uninterrupted. We don’t really talk about this reality. And so we hardly talk to our vets. The fact is we don’t really want to know what we’ve sent them out to do. We don’t really want to know the terror of walking down the streets of Fallujah or the reality of driving into a small hostile village in Afghanistan. A world of IEDs and suicide bombers. We don’t really want to share their sleepless nights. We don’t want to inhabit their nightmares. It’s easier not to know.

We don’t want to know. And the war-makers don’t care.

Those who serve and those who’ve served deserve better.

The Berkshire Record, June 2, 2011 © Mickey Friedman