Work and remembrance on Memorial Day

by Brian Clarey

It’s Memorial Day as I write this missive, a hot one with smears of white clouds in the sky and visible waves of heat shimmering up from our newly paved and painted parking lot.

Oh yeah, we’re at work today while everybody else is sweating off hangovers on the beach or watching movie marathons in air-conditioned luxury. And that’s okay – we all understand that this paper doesn’t care about holidays, that it wants to come out on schedule and that in a sense we are all slaves to this impossible taskmaster called YES! Weekly. It’s the business we chose, though I’m sure some of us are right now wondering why we didn’t go to electrician school, and because Monday is always production day this is a sacrifice we make several times a year.

And in truth, it’s not all that much of a sacrifice. Though we’re all hunched over our computers like diligent little gnomes, there’s a barbecue grill smoking out in the parking lot with some of the thickest burgers sizzling on it I’ve seen in a while and a plate of hot dogs that bring immediately to mind the subject of my last column, Mr. Ron Jeremy.

I’m eating one anyway, with chili and some chopped onion. I’ll likely have a burger as well, because that’s how I roll.

And isn’t Memorial Day an appropriate occasion to sacrifice for something larger than ourselves? It’s a celebration that traces its roots down South back to the aftermath of the Civil War, when Confederate widows would annually lay flowers at the graves of those who gave their lives for what they perceived to be the greater good.

The day should be especially poignant this year, with more than 140,000 US troops currently deployed in Iraq and even more on the way, part of the surge President Bush promised in January. And the US body count stands at about 3,500 for this conflict, amassed in a steady trickle since the initial invasion in 2003.

That’s about the same amount of students there were at my college, and it’s astounding to think that so many young men and women have made this sacrifice for something so poorly planned and ill-defined.

I’m sure some will take umbrage at this last sentence, those adjectives I used to define this war. The more rabid among them will surely write nasty letters disparaging my patriotism and vilifying my lack of support for our troops – on Memorial Day, no less.

But that’s bullshit, and most of us know it.

Enumerating the war dead and mourning their passing is a far cry from speaking ill of the troops. Wondering aloud at the paucity of purpose in their mission does not make me a terrorist.

And on this day more than any other, I think it is appropriate to ask, “Why?”

Why are we in Iraq? What do we hope to accomplish with our presence? How long will it take and how much will it cost? Will it all be worth it in the end?

Straight answers are hard to come by.

But it’s incontestable truth that we’ve lost about 3,500 soldiers, and that’s just according to the murky statistics put out by the Department of Defense. Hundreds of others have died as a result of combat injuries. Thousands more have survived disfigurement, mental trauma, separation anxiety and the indescribable shock of seeing a suicide bomber eviscerate a roomful of their friends.

I say it is indescribable because I can’t even begin to imagine what that would be like. In fact, aside from following the war in newspapers, on the internet and television, I feel very far removed from it. While there are parents all across the nation unable to sleep for worry of their children in the military, while sons and daughters wonder if their mommies and daddies will ever come home from the Middle East, my own life hasn’t changed much at all since the “Shock and Awe” days of March 2003, save for a few niggling items.

I worry about my cousin, a Marine in Iraq. I worry that this war will be long and bloody enough that my own sons will be drafted to fight in 10 or 15 years. And I pay more for gasoline, which is a ridiculous notion to those of us who believe that this war is about stealing oil.

But I do it, though not always gladly because I can’t fathom how paying more than $3 a gallon is helping the war effort.

There is also little correlation between the sacrifices our military and their families make in the waging of this war and the fact that I have to work on Memorial Day, except that it makes me realize how small a thing it is to sit at my desk and read copy while everybody else has the day off when there are guys getting shot at half a world away.

So I’ll eat my burger and hot dog. I’ll trudge through production and try to get everybody out of here at a decent hour. I’ll use less gasoline. And I’ll spend more time than usual thinking about our men and women in uniform and just what the hell is going on over in Iraq.

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