Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Memorial Day

Euphemisms rarely live up to the Greek root for "good" out of which the word is fashioned. It is cynical and not quite correct to say all euphemisms are lies. A few enable conversation about a touchy subject in the midst of a general audience. But some are lies and most remove critical features of their subject from explicit reference. They make the problem that prompted their invention seem more distant and abstract. Euphemisms can never be the language of solutions.

On memorial day, we go to the beach, burn hamburgers, endure speeches loaded with shallow patriotic platitudes and drink too much all to honor those who have died fighting their country's wars. We have a euphemism for these departed, used frequently in the headlines of the day: "honoring the fallen". Casualty statistics are transmuted into heroism. In order that these dead should not have died in vain, their sacrifice is used to add sacred weight to whatever war is now afoot. Long after the kin have dried their tears we collectively recall. How dare you question the war when the silent testimony of ranks of headstones can only be interpreted to say It was worth any price! There is nothing you can take away from a man who has given all. The questions are for those who mistook what was given. If we remember the fallen but forget why they fought or polish retrospective reasons and rationales to a heroic luster how have we honored them? The illogic of it staggers my mind.

What if they have not fallen but were instead pushed, tripped or just ridden into the ground?

And what to do about the 1000+ contractors killed so far in Dubya and Dick's excellent adventure? How will they be remembered?

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