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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Photo from September 2013 courtesy of Joe Brusky and the Overpass Light Brigade