Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Things We Make Our Kids Do

This Memorial Day weekend, I'm looking at the news of the day. The British Petroleum Oil Gusher continues in its 40th day a mile deep in the Gulf of Mexico with no end in sight, and the dollar cost of the Afghan and Iraqi wars now exceeds ONE TRILLION dollars. Civilian deaths in those two wars are estimated to be between 100,000 and 800,000. The very fact that it is so vaguely tabulated says something about the war's very nature. US military casualties exceed 5,000 killed and about 35,000 seriously wounded. President Obama has pledged to get out of Iraq and is being pressured more and more to do the same from Afghanistan. The things we make our kids do.

My Dad and his brothers were in the Navy in WW II. One uncle saw action and was stationed at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. I don't remember about my Uncle Benny. My Dad was stationed at Morro Bay in Northern California and used to tell us kids about marching his night duty along the Pacific Ocean shore watching for Japanese submarines. All three brothers survived the war. Some wars do make more sense than others, unfortunately. The things we make kids do.

I did a bit of research and found that approximately 1,300,000 American soldiers have been killed in all our wars since the Revolutionary War. About half of those were killed in the Civil War, appr. 400,000 US Soldiers were killed in WWII, 50,000 in South Vietnam, with the remaining 200,000 killed in all the other wars combined. Mostly kids, I suspect, forced to do what kids shouldn't have to do. Optional wars seem to me to be a bad idea.

We keep beginning things we can't control, creating problems that are beyond our capacity to solve.... Unequivocal victories are few and far between these days. Unanticipated consequences are the norm. Maybe what is in common between these two items in the news this weekend is our hubris, our arrogance. We think we can start wars and manage them to successful conclusions. We think we can dig oil wells a mile deep in the ocean and we are smart enough to thwart catastrophe. Eleven young oil workers died on that platform.

The unstoppable oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico seems to work as a metaphor for our inability to stop the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hubris tells us we can "manage" these wars -- we can't; they take on a life of their own; hubris tells us we can explore and drill for oil in places we can't even go -- we can't; they take on a life of their own. Just as the oil washes up on our shores do the fallen arrive home to their grieving families.

So on this Memorial Weekend, let us remember all those young kids who gave their lives for all the reasons that politicians come up with. I'm pretty convinced that the best way to end these wars is to stop fighting them. Our kids go bravely where and when they are told. Let us do a better job of deciding where they should go.


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