Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Honor the Fallen but Not Follies of War

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Honor the Fallen but Not Follies of War

Article excerpt

Memorial Day has a way of bringing back home the sacrifices made far away in defense of a homeland blessedly removed from strife because men and women answered the call of duty.

So it was again this past Monday. In many communities, a distant bugle sounding across the generations summoned the patriotic to parades. Old soldiers marched to give proof that they have not yet faded away and that their ideal of service will never fade away.

They were reinforced by ranks of marching bands and community groups, the young and the old. Such respect is the enduring mark of a great nation.

Later, crowds gathered in local parks or around a monument where a dignitary offered reassurance that those who made the ultimate sacrifice did so to preserve freedoms for the rest of us.

If only it were true. How I dearly wish it were true.

That shocking skepticism carries a caveat: In the greater sense, this noble sentiment of justifiable sacrifices being made is indeed correct, because in times of clear and present danger we and our freedoms are protected by those who serve. Of course.

But a danger lurks in looking at service and sacrifice through a gauzy sentimental veil that obscures a bitter truth: Many wars in which our forces take the field have little to do with preserving our freedoms or way of life, and no amount of pious speeches or editorials will make this so.

In fact, if you count the conflicts that really did represent life or death to the nation in recent generations, only World War II unambiguously qualifies (although the Korean War arguably has a claim).

As for the rest, they were undertaken for reasons ranging from the shabby to the reckless. American forces were too often committed in the service of some political notion later revealed to be crackpot or fanciful. This was not the fault of those who served so honorably.

Last month brought a grim reminder: the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam War. That was my war, albeit in the uniform of an American ally, Australia.

By April 1975, watching TV one day after I had moved to London, I was incredulous at the sight of a North Vietnamese tank knocking down the gates of the presidential palace in Saigon. …

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