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Two years ago, I wrote about a moving Memorial Day encounter I had with a World War II veteran while I was out canvassing to recall GovernEr Scott Walker.  This year, I decided to mark Memorial Day in Madison, Wisconsin by taking a walk along the "Memorial Mile." The Madison Chapter of Veterans for Peace puts this together each year along Atwood Avenue in Olbrich Park and each tombstone along the trek signifies one serviceman or servicewoman who gave their life in either the War in Afghanistan or the War in Iraq since the fall of 2001. I've driven along the route several times but the magnitude of the human cost of our state of endless war over the past 13 years really hit me while quietly traveling the route on foot.

Memorial Mile 2014

Well over 6,000 American troops killed, hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians killed, countless families and communities torn apart, trillions of dollars wasted, and a world seemingly no less riddled with galling violence than it was when the Bush/Cheney regime embarked on the so-called "War on Terror." As a friend and I later discussed, it is jarring to see a visual representation of how many more American troops were killed in Iraq after Dubya strapped on a flight suit, climbed aboard an aircraft carrier amid much pomp and circumstance and callously launched his "Mission Accomplished" propaganda, than were killed before the infamous May 1, 2003 proclamation.

Memorial Mile 2014

Memorial Mile 2014

I came across a tombstone affixed with a Wisconsin flag signifying the lone Wisconsin native killed in Afghanistan during 2004, a native of my hometown of Sun Prairie several years my elder. I never met him, but a few of my friends were friends with him. I found myself choking back tears thinking of the people who were close to him and the inestimable cost that his family and friends live with every day as a result of the wars.

Memorial Mile 2014

The cost of war is simply staggering for our citizens, and the country as a whole, to bear, especially when we have children going to school hungry, countless people sleeping in the streets, and tens of thousands of citizens dying each year from either inadequate healthcare or a lack of health care altogether. We face crippling austerity that results in veterans returning home only to see their benefits and health care grossly underfunded. The social safety net that aids so many of said veterans has been ravaged and individuals have been kicked off the rolls in the name of "freedom" from the far-right wing bogeyman of "government dependency" so often referenced by Walker. And we have seen massive cuts to public education at all levels, often initiated by the same politicians and profiteering robber barons of the military-industrial complex who sent our troops into those hellacious war zones in the first place.

Memorial Mile 2014

Memorial Mile 2014
View from one end of the "Memorial Mile."  The white tombstones near the opposite end are visible off in the distance.

If you haven't walked the Memorial Mile but have the opportunity to do so, I highly recommend you take it in before it's taken down this upcoming Saturday. And please remember those who have given their lives for our country, and the visual of white tombstones stretching off into the abyss, the next time the powers that be rev up the thunderous drumbeat of war.

When will they ever learn?

Escalate Peace
Photo from September 2013 courtesy of Joe Brusky and the Overpass Light Brigade

Originally posted to Wisco Wherls on Tue May 27, 2014 at 11:18 PM PDT.

Also republished by Madison Kossacks, Badger State Progressive, Community Spotlight, and IGTNT Advisory Group.

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Comment Preferences

  •  thank you, Wisco (8+ / 0-)

    very evocative, and moving.

    "real" work : a job where you wash your hands BEFORE you use the bathroom...

    by chimene on Wed May 28, 2014 at 01:02:13 AM PDT

    •  And keep in mind that civilian deaths (5+ / 0-)

      and other Iraqi deaths are best measured by the medical standard of Total Extra Deaths.

      Wars with guerrilla actions kill far more civilians than soldiers. For Iraq the Total Extra Deaths stood at 1,961,000 in 2013.

      Memorial Mile for the Iraqi people would be 350 miles long.

      That's about the distance between Madison and Dayton, Ohio. That's also how far you have to drive to get out of Iraq, on the road from Baghdad to Damascus.

      Few of us know Iraqis. They're just as people as we are.

      "Stealing kids' lunch money makes them strong and independent." -- after Paul "False Prophet" Ryan

      by waterstreet2013 on Thu May 29, 2014 at 04:44:16 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Civilian deaths are far too easily forgotten (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        The media's compliance in censoring the war for the general public definitely plays a role, but the state's propaganda in painting deaths on the "enemy"'s side as tolerable collateral damage always stuck me as particularly cruel. Convincing the public that someone is the "enemy" makes it easier for the masses to accept something as appalling as civilian casualties, when they're equally worthy of the right to safety and security. Do you have any sourcing/links for the number you just referenced of Total Extra Iraqi deaths? I'd like to see it addressed with a little bit of context if it's the "best measure."

      •  About body counts: We should remember too (0+ / 0-)

        the much greater number of military members and civilians who may have escaped immediate death, but who now live with assorted physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wounds of war.

        If you were to include all their family members and friends who share in that suffering --- be their wounds visible or invisible --- can you imagine how long and wide any attempt to visually represent their numbers would have to be?

        These past 13 years have certainly produced a whole lot of pain...

    •  Thank you, Chimene. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Several people I know that have visited the Memorial remarked that the visual is difficult to look at, because it evokes a lot of memories. And being difficult to look at because of the reality it represents is a perfect example of why we need memorials like these.

  •  "Fallen" heroes is a misnomer (5+ / 0-)

    They are for the most part heroes, but they are dead heroes. We have to stop airbrushing war. Thanks for remembering them.

    I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night, alive as you and me.

    by plankbob on Wed May 28, 2014 at 03:31:29 AM PDT

    •  I hate to say this, but not all are heroes (12+ / 0-)

      John Wayne to the contrary, they died from all sorts of causes, some heroic, some stupid, some unlucky, some just being at the wrong place etc.  Many had what would be called mundane deaths from disease instead of heroic death in battle  (No disrespect meant to any of the dead.  I knew several whose names are on the Wall.)  I regularly see the patriotic propaganda put out by the Japanese, Germans and Russians during WWII on auction and it mirrors what the US generated.

      55K died in VN and there were 55K separate, unique and individual deaths.  Not to take anything away from those who died but it is only when we are realistic about their deaths, that we will perhaps think twice before sending our folks into harm's way.

      I have long advocated that any theater showing a war film also in some manner broadcast the smells of battle.  The movies would not be so heroic had the viewers have to watch them from the mud of a foxhole standing next to a guy who had not bathed in  week or more or changed clothes for days.  War would not be so attractive if we would realize how mundane so much of it is, punctuated by periods of absolute, bowel gripping fear.

      Got off topic as I note many VN vets, upon returning, destroyed any vestige of their service and only talk about their experiences with other VN vets, if them.  I think that our national experience with the VN War will never be fully digested by the body politic, much as we have been unable to process the Civil War some 150 years after the fact      

      •  Driving around in jeeps so's the insurgents (0+ / 0-)

        can use 'em for targets ???

        Let's get real.

        That was the day-to-day "mission" for Army Reserve units. Put a bull's eye on your back.

        The troops never, ever learned to speak Arabic. The Army didn't even offer classes. They didn't make contact with the population. They didn't know jack about what people were saying about their efforts.

        Support The Troops.

        What bullshit. And then congress went along with adding "armor" to the jeeps, laughingly called Humvees by the Pentagon brass. Against the IEDs, that was a useless $3,000,000,000 giveaway.

        The worst was getting guys killed, then losing it and taking revenge on the local civilians. Hundreds and hundreds of incidents.

        It's a crazy disconnect, the difference between what happened and the silly rhetoric that's used today to describe the war in Iraq. And what finally worked there was simple bribery -- $30,000,000 a month to pay off the Sunni leadership in Anbar. That and hundreds of night time assassinations by Special Forces.

        "Stealing kids' lunch money makes them strong and independent." -- after Paul "False Prophet" Ryan

        by waterstreet2013 on Thu May 29, 2014 at 05:01:30 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Never learned arabic (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Zinman, waterstreet2013

          I am still wondering how platoons of men from the fly over states could  find their way around Kandahar or Baghdad cities without local assistance. I can't see them function unaided in the Bronx or LA.

          So in the words of Gen Smedley Butler "war is racket" and our troops were the hit men for various power groups.

      •  Smell and taste of battle (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Wisco Wherls, entlord

        The book "With the Old Breed". The chapter on the fighting on Okinawa should be required reading for high school juniors and seniors.

        I went through high school reading the first flood of memoires, of the there I was being a hero genre. Only really crappy eyesight and its cosequences kept me out of the combat arms. Unlike the Wws they were not desperate enough and left me to mechanic in engine shops in the USAF.

        A very cold shower of reality. Of course there should also be All Quiet on the Western Front, Goodbye to all that and as always Thomas Paine. The math teachers can use Paine's economic numbers.

        •  I have yet to read "With the Old Breed"... (0+ / 0-)

          ...but if Spielberg's miniseries, "The Pacific," even remotely did it justice, I imagine it's a gripping, blunt take on the horrors of war. Sledge's character seemed fascinated by the prospect of the war, only to become hardened and disillusioned with the bullshit they were being fed when reality hit and he saw the effects.

  •  Sobering (9+ / 0-)

    There are so many dead by now that they're running out of room in the park to fit all the markers in. It was kind of a gut punch to walk past all of them, and to be reminded that people are still dying in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Veterans for Peace do a fantastic job with this memorial, and with everything they do to try to bring our attention to the costs and horrors of war.

    Lovely essay, Wherls.

    "Step by step the longest march can be won, can be won Many stones can form an arch, singly none, singly none And by union what we will can be accomplished still Drops of water turn a mill, singly none, singly none" -- Waldemar Hill / Pete Seeger

    by kideni on Wed May 28, 2014 at 04:56:11 AM PDT

    •  Thanks, Kideni. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Seeing the tombstones wrap around at the 2014 end was definitely a gut punc when I thought about how many markers had been added since this started. I'm grateful to the Vets for Peace for their diligence as ambassadors for the cause and for their courage in speaking out and serving as advocates for all the people who have died or seen their lives shattered as a result of senseless wars.

  •  It's a powerful symbol (7+ / 0-)

    A couple of years ago the kids and I did walk the whole length of it.  We stood silently for a long time looking at the markers for the period their dad was in Iraq.  It really hit home then that he had known some of the soldiers those markers were for, and that we were lucky there didn't have to be one for him.  

  •  The real depressing issue that I find bothersome (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wisco Wherls, waterstreet2013, kideni

    is the fact that so many are detached from just what the sacrifices have been, and are still continuing to this day due to fact that less than 1% of our society is involved with the active violence via campaigns in other countries that continues to this day.  This so called "all volunteer Army" has all but taken our direct personal impact of losses and suffering and placed it in the back room news stories which very few read nor understand anymore.  This didn't happen by accident, this is a direct result of those devious parties that wanted appease the military industrial complex because they remembered very well the failure of the Vietnam experience with the public and how it tore this country apart.   If the general public were to share the pain and losses first hand again, this country would have never repeated another set of unethical aggressive actions in Iraq and in Afghanistan as what the George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Condeleza Rice cabal and the rest of the immoral chicken hawks brought upon us for their war profiteering and spineless agenda.  

    No, there isn't any pains when the sacrifice and heavy lifting is done by the very unknown few, and never discussed in the public forum as it should be.  However, it is all of our shortcomings of a society that we allow for this to go on without objection, while the few mourn their dead, and care for their injured and broken family members.


    “My soul is from elsewhere, I'm sure of that, and I intend to end up there." - Rumi

    by LamontCranston on Wed May 28, 2014 at 08:27:04 AM PDT

  •  The Madison chapter... (4+ / 0-)

    ... of Veterans for Peace is an amazing group of people. I have so much admiration for them and the job they do educating the rest of us on the real costs of war.

    I’d rather be a hammer than a nail. Yes, I would, If I only could. I surely would....Paul Simon

    by Giles Goat Boy on Wed May 28, 2014 at 10:02:47 AM PDT

  •  Wisco asked me to let folks know that he (3+ / 0-)

    cannot respond to comments until he is off work. I'm happy to relay that message, since I am delighted that he is a fellow State employee!

    ...(And thanks, Wisco, for sharing this powerful visualization. Numbers are hard to grasp. This tribute converts abstraction into physical and concrete (yet symbolic) embodiment. I wasn't aware of the event, and am really impressed by how effective it is.)

  •  New to Madison, (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kideni, waterstreet2013, ranger995

    I happened upon this yesterday and had to stop and thank the attendant for its existence. Also thankful to have found a place where such a truly peace-embracing expression is possible.

    and I wait for them to interrupt my drinking from this broken cup

    by le sequoit on Thu May 29, 2014 at 04:40:38 AM PDT

  •  As we mourn our own, we should mourn (0+ / 0-)

    the people we kill. Vietnam, 2,600,000. Iraq, 1,961,000.

    In both wars, enemy combatant deaths came to less than 5% of the total extra death counts. Like one big sweep with a massive mega-My Lai for each war.

    "Stealing kids' lunch money makes them strong and independent." -- after Paul "False Prophet" Ryan

    by waterstreet2013 on Thu May 29, 2014 at 05:12:27 AM PDT

  •  The further away we move on past a "big" war (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    waterstreet2013, kideni

    those whose training and work it is to plan war, by the focus of their employment, tend to pitch war as a quick and easy solution... Yet the further away society drifts from the reality of battle, the fainter the memories grow of its real cost.

    Simply put, the more distance we put between ourselves and war's horror, we come around to envision a war where we only see ourselves landing catastrophic blows upon the other person.  We forget the sensations and damage of what it feels like to get hit in return.....

    That same fading of memory is what underlaid the rush into WWI...  exactly a hundred years ago this summer!
    Daily  I see the signs that we grow in danger of reliving those tendencies....
  •  Memorial Day (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    waterstreet2013, kideni, WakeUpNeo

    Thanks for your diary. Memorial day actually is not a fun day for me, I don't know why that is, but I think about the Afghan soldiers who died serving with me. We lost several during the 14 months I was there. I particularly remember four who died recovering the body of a Marine who was killed. They died so that the kid's body could be returned to his family. It makes me cry to think about it.


    "If you don't sin, then Jesus died for nothing!" (on a sign at a Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans)

    by ranger995 on Thu May 29, 2014 at 02:01:59 PM PDT

  •  Double thanks (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kideni, WakeUpNeo

    Thank you first for this very thoughtful post. Secondly for bringing the Memorial Mile attention. It's a great idea and one that I will try to emulate in my home state next year. . .

    "With sufficient thrust, pigs fly just fine." -- RFC 1925

    by lartwielder on Thu May 29, 2014 at 07:16:01 PM PDT

  •  Thank you and Peace to you, Wisco Wherls (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wisco Wherls

    both for sharing your wise thoughts and your excellent photographs.

    Also republished to IGTNT Advisory Group.

    •  Thanks for republishing, WakeUpNeo! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I appreciate the compliments and it's nice to hear that for my photography, since picture-taking isn't something I typically do. I wanted to bring attention to something as worthwhile as the Memorial Mile, which may not get the attention it deserves for leaving such a lasting impact on those who witness it, especially considering I know how diligent the area Vets for Peace are with their efforts for promoting peace.

      Peace and Solidarity to you, also.

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