A Rant: Last month, on the way back from college visits, my daughter and I drove through Gettysburg. Nestled in the Pennsylvania hills and dedicated to those who fought on both sides of the Civil War, the park serves as a testament to a division in our country which nearly fractured this nation. According to the National Park Service website (http://www.nps.gov/gett/faqs.htm), there are approximately 1,328 monuments, markers and memorials in the park. And there are numerous others scattered throughout the surrounding town and countryside, including one for the only civilian casualty, Jennie Wade, who was killed while baking bread in her sister’s kitchen.
I doubt there will be any such memorials to the many civilian casualties of our current wars. Various sources put the number in Iraq as anywhere from 76,939 (Pentagon records, as stated in a New York Times article http://tinyurl.com/2v65rf3) to as high as 112,823 (from http://www.iraqbodycount.org/; both figures include Iraqi security forces.). The statistics in Afghanistan are lower, 9,759 from 2006-2010 (reported in The Guardian [http://tinyurl.com/2dexslc] and based on statistics from the United Nations http://tinyurl.com/6ynf7ea). To the Afghanistan figures you can add 1,462, the latest figure for 2011, reported by the same agency in July (http://tinyurl.com/3uneuyq).
These numbers, of course, don’t include the numerous men and women in our armed forces who have died fighting these wars, nor the ones who have returned home injured or mentally and emotionally damaged by their experiences.
The loss is great, and yet to my great shame, I find I rarely think about what’s being done a half a world away in our name. The occasional news blurb on Yahoo or in the paper may bring it to my attention but other than that, life goes on much as it always has.
It shouldn’t be this way. We are at war. How can we allow ourselves to forget that?
The answer is: because it’s easy. Very few of us have had to sacrifice anything at all. The soldiers and sailors and pilots and their crews, and yes, the civilians, have done it all for us.
And most days we barely spare them a thought.
It wasn’t always this way. During the World Wars — from what I’ve heard and read — there was a sense of common sacrifice because every citizen gave something. The country was united in its support of a goal.
Quite frankly, the United States of America isn’t united over anything these days.
But surely we can unite on this. We can all agree that we owe something to those whose lives have been irreparably damaged by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And we can act on that belief.
The USO (which ironically comes up just above the United States Oil Fund in an Yahoo search) runs a variety of programs to support our troops (http://www.uso.org/programs/). Or, if you prefer, the Wounded Warrior Project (http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/) provides services for injured service men and women. And the International Red Cross serves the civilians in war-torn countries (http://www.icrc.org/eng/where-we-work/middle-east/index.jsp).
Pick one. Or pick anything else that makes you think about this war — our war — and those who are in it. For this one day on this one idea, let us be united. And maybe someday we will learn again how to be united on others.
Then perhaps, on a day far into the future, all battlefields will be as lovely as Gettysburg, serving only as reminders of the horrible path we took in learning to resolve conflicts without bloodshed.
On days like these, when I think of those we’ve lost, it’s nice to think it could happen.