It was the war to end all wars, the war that my father (photo above), and his brothers and cousins, fought in – seven Graham boys marching proudly off to the mud and mustard gas of Europe or the sandstorms and lice of Egypt and Jordan. By God’s grace, they returned unharmed, all seven of them. But my father’s youngest brother, my Uncle Arthur, fought again in the Second World War, and this time he wasn’t so lucky.
He was standing on a bridge in London when a buzz bomb hit. The bridge was demolished and his skull was cracked. He was never the same again – especially when he drank, which was most of the time.
But he was one of the more fortunate ones. As someone said, war is hell, and the evidence is all around us. Endless rows of white crosses, shattered ex-soldiers with missing limbs and hollow eyes, befuddled veterans sleeping under bridges…
Not to mention the ruined lives of the warriors’ loved ones… impoverished families and traumatized youngsters… dashed hopes… lost dreams… oceans of tears…
Yet the war to end all wars has still to be fought.
They’re killing young men and women in Afghanistan as I write this. And U.S. troops linger in Iraq, trapped in a hopeless time warp. Drones will probably be flying over Pakistan and Yemen tonight raining death on the wretches below.
And the cost!
To date, $747.3 billion has been appropriated for the U.S. war in Iraq and $299 billion for Afghanistan. And Congress is about to add an estimated $37 billion to the current $136.8 billion total spending for the current fiscal year.
No end is in sight.
In President Obama’s $3.8 trillion budget proposal for fiscal year 2011, $895 billion is expected to be allocated to defense spending.
And for what?
To save the world? This world?
Despite the endless war – partly because of it – the world has not been saved. Not from the depredations of Big Oil, so vividly illustrated in that unstoppable gusher in the Gulf, not from relentless oppression by the moneyed class, not from the chicanery of politicians or the misery of the slums.
I cannot begin to list the horrors that persist. You probably know them as well as I do. Think Africa, where millions are starving and millions have been murdered or mutilated. Think Haiti, where the devastation of that earthquake has already been forgotten but where a legacy of misery continues. Think Jamaica, where violence rages in a massive manhunt for an international drug dealer wanted in the U.S. Think Korea, where the North and South are poised to light another fuse because of the sinking of that warship. Think Israel and Palestine. Think Iran’s menacing nuclear program…
Think America, where the budget deficit is $1.27 trillion and accruing interest every second, where the political system has been hijacked by knaves and fools, where teachers are being laid off in droves as more and more soldiers are being recruited to “save” society…
There is so much to think about this Memorial Day as we fly Old Glory and fry hamburgers and hot dogs, sail our boats and picnic in the park.
But who’s thinking?