I have made a conscious decision to view casualties of war as impersonally as I can because once you make the decision to go to war you have to think tactically and strategically in an effort to win the war in the most efficient and decisive manner possible. And unfortunately, war=casualties.
I realize the horror of creating casualties is an excellent argument AGAINST war, but this world is still a very violent, dangerous place and there are enemies who will not be thwarted by any means short of organized violence. I do not mean to debate the advisability or necessity of the war in Iraq today, but it IS a war and once begun it is critical – I believe – to keep a focus on the big picture and not dwell on the day to day.
But of course there also must be a balance between this kind of emotional distance and impersonal strategy, and honoring those individuals who carry out that strategy – and most especially give their lives in the process of dutifully carrying out that strategy – as individuals and not just fodder for policy (war=politics by other means).
This balance is very difficult to achieve as we are talking about the loss of our fellow citizens, friends and family members. (And I freely admit it is much easier to keep “policy” abstract and impersonal when you do not have anyone immediately close to you in harm’s way, as I do not.) It is as if we must divide our minds in two: what is best for the nation, for the world, for the big picture? vs. keenly feeling the loss of every individual who is killed or injured, every one of whom deserves our recognition, appreciation and sorrow.
And that is why Memorial Day, especially in time of war, is so important. It is right that we set aside a day to honor, appreciate and give brain- and heart-space to those who have made – it’s a cliche but a totally appropriate one – the ultimate sacrifice, to set aside the big picture and tactics and strategy for a day in order to remember that war is horrible, that there is great nobility and selflessness inherent in defending one’s country, and that we MUST collectively, keenly feel the loss of every individual no matter how certain we are of the rightness of our martial cause or we become less human.
I freely admit that since 9/11 I have made myself less human with the certainty that there are some enemies who must be eradicated and that this process of proactive eradication would necessitate casualties, and I have steeled myself against the inevitability of those casualties – including those of innocent civilians who just find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.
That process of steeling has left its mark on my soul. Today I do my best to strip away the steel and fully feel the worth and loss of every individual.