Monday, May 31, 2010

Remember them, don't martyr them

by Ross Caputi

Memorial Day is a day for us to remember the men and women who died in military service. It is also a day when most veterans feel especially proud; however, I am a veteran and for me the opposite is true. I feel like we have gotten away from what Memorial Day is supposed to be about, and instead of it being a day to remember the dead and learn something from their death, it has become a day to wave the flag and not question why they died. On Memorial Day I am treated like a hero, even though I have not done anything heroic, and instead of feeling proud or remembering my friends that never made it back, I think about Iraq and the role I played in the battle of Fallujah. Every handshake and thank you that I receive for my service feels tainted with hypocrisy, because I know that most Americans do not understand what they are thanking me for, and I know that this misunderstanding is facilitating the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In November of 2004, 300,000 people living in the city of Fallujah were forced to flee their homes as we came to “liberate” them. I remember seeing families fleeing into the desert as we staged for the attack outside their city, and I remember going house-to-house, in their houses, and seeing the lives that we forced them to leave behind. We went house-to-house for nearly two weeks as we searched for “terrorists”, and in each house there was a trace of the family that had lived there until recently. There was still food in their refrigerators and clothes in their dresser drawers, but we ate their food and we took anything we wanted out of the houses as souvenirs.
Their pictures no longer hung on the walls, because the previous week of bombing had shook them loose and they lay on the ground in broken frames and shattered glass, but I picked them up and looked at them, pictures of families and weddings, and I caught a glimpse of the lives that I had helped ruin. I found a few photo albums lying amongst the broken glass and rubble, and as I flipped through the pages I came to know a few families intimately. Through their photos I watched children grow from infants, to teenagers, to young men and women, and I saw photos of family parties, celebrations, and graduation days.
As the battle continued the situation worsened, and after we started taking casualties everything began to spiral out of control. We became increasingly vindictive for every friend that we lost, and we believed in our alleged reasons for being there that much more. We convinced ourselves that democracy and freedom rested on everything that we were doing, and that our friends lost their lives in the pursuit of a noble end. Our rage became entangled with a moral crusade, and the results were disastrous. We began bulldozing houses, rather than risking our lives by going inside them. We flattened whole neighborhoods like this. In one house there were two resisters and a young boy bunkered inside. We fired so many grenades into that house that the roof caved in on top of them. The boy was about ten years old. We reduced Fallujah to a pile of rubble, and we left the 300,000 that used to live there with practically nothing to return to. To this day, many of us who were there still maintain the illusion that we had somehow done this for them, for their freedom and liberty – which is precisely what we took away from them.
My friends Travis and Brad were shot and killed in Fallujah. Their deaths were not necessary, nor were they for a noble cause. They died for the sins of our government, like so many Iraqis have, and the worst thing that we could do for their memory is to drape a flag on them and enshrine them in heroism. To remember them in this way would turn them into martyrs, and that is not be what Memorial Day should be about. Furthermore, we would be perpetuating a lie that might encourage others to go to war, and then their deaths truly would be for nothing. The truth is that they were good people who died too young, and that we did not make America a safer place or help Iraqis. The truth is that we participated in something terrible, and telling the truth about what we did does not dishonor the memory of the dead.
I feel like a hypocrite on Memorial Day, not because of the way America chooses to remember the men and women who were killed or because of the way America chooses to forget the pain and suffering that we have caused abroad, but because many veterans including myself have allowed this to happen. By choosing to accept praise rather than talking about the suffering we have caused, we are endangering the next generation of service men and women, because we have not given them a realistic portrayal of what they are getting involved in. I feel like a hypocrite because on past Memorial Days I have not lived up to my responsibilities as a veteran, and I have not done enough to make sure other Americans do not meet the same end as my friends Travis and Brad did.

The above came from War Crimes Times.

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