Recently, Lynn found out that her dad was the guy who held the nuclear codes during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He was the base commander at Barksdale. She understands better now the visceral fear that she felt, at age ten and eleven, everytime he left the house. Would she ever see him again? She remembers "duck and cover" at school, the shadow of anxiety that hovered over everything.
The cadets who graduated from our military academies in recent weeks entered in the late summer of 2001. They imagined bright careers, a boost up the success ladder, service to their country and a happy future. They stayed at the academies knowing they would be going to war, and knowing that many of them would die.
When I read about them (and the newsmagazines and newspapers all have marked the occasion with profiles), I admire their courage, their nascent heroism. They are indeed some of the best of us. We need them to become teachers and doctors, lawyers and politicians and librarians. They ought to become leaders in their communities, and raise proud sons and daughters of their own, and ease into old age surrounded by well-loved grandchildren.
We will lose many of them. Not only those who will die, but those who will become crippled in body and spirit, those who will become embittered by the horror of what they will find themselves having to do, those who will be corrupted and crushed by the brutal reality of the world they are walking into. We will suffer not only the loss of their promise, but the agony of their parents and their spouses, the uncomprehending sorrow of small children just born. It is a terrible cost, but there are times in history when it must be paid. This is not, I grieve to say, one of those times.
My President is a foolish man, undone by vanity and hubris. But on this Memorial Day, I will choose to believe that, blinkered and blinded and cossetted and coddled as he is, he truly believes that the men and women who are giving up their lives for his decisions are doing so for a right and noble cause. If I am wrong, if this really is just about oil or pride or vengeance, then I pray that the Christian god he professes to serve will damn him, damn him forever to hell.
On our street, the flags go up in front of every house on these national holidays, and stay up throughout the weekend, day and night, rain or shine. Lynn, the colonel's daughter, rages at the thoughtlessness. These aren't decorations! In North Little Rock, her father, now in his eighties, carefully raises the flag in the morning, brings it down at night, never lets it stay out in the rain, never lets it touch the ground. I think of him, and do the same.