Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Day of the Dead

A long time ago November 11 was called Armistice Day. It was a day of prayer and thanks commemorating the end of World War I. That was the one that was naively called the war to end all wars. The world had never seen such carnage in so short a period of time. Little did we know we were just getting warmed up. Sometime later, in the United States, we changed the name of the date to Veterans Day in order to honor those who not only fought in that war, but all the others. Someone must have decided that peace is so elusive, so fleeting, that taking time to recognize the end of just one conflict denigrates all the others that came before and those that followed. After all, there is no official holiday for VE Day, or VJ Day. There isn't a Korean Peace Treaty Day, no, We Killed a Lot of Vietnamese Day, and certainly no, Desert Storm Day, or Saddam Got His Clock Cleaned Day.

We do have another holiday, called Memorial Day. It calls for us to remember our war dead. Most Americans have the day off, drink a bunch of beer, watch a ball game, or a car race and generally don't think about the dead for one moment.

Today in Mexico and other countries it is, The Day of the Dead. Dia de los Muertos. South of the Rio Grande banks are closed and parades are held as people dress up in macabre costumes, usually depicting themselves as skeletons. It is a day to remember relatives and loved ones who have departed from this earth.

Over in Afghanistan just about every day is Dia de los Muertos. We went there to throw out the Taliban because they were supposed to be harboring Osama bin Laden and honestly, because they were and are a bunch of gruesome assholes. We began the campaign, the war, in October of 2001. It is now November of 2012 and we're still there. Bin Laden isn't. Apparently early on he moved to the suburbs in Pakistan. In the end that didn't save him. Navy SEALS gunned him down like they would any mad dog either in his bedroom, or a hallway of the house he was holed up in. It really doesn't matter where, or how, what matters is that our purpose for being in Afghanistan, in theory, ended as soon as the son of a bitch ate a bunch of lead.

But, we're still there, in Afghanistan. So are plenty of other people. It seems we can start a fight, we just don't know how to end one.

As high noon passes on the Day of the Dead a quick check of wikipedia provides these statistics. Since 2001, 2017 Americans have been killed. 439 British soldiers are dead as are 157 Canadians. There are more of course: 88 French, 39 Australians, 42 Danes, 56 Germans, 52 Italians, 10 Norwegians, 10 Kiwis from New Zealand, 34 Poles, 91 Spaniards, 5 Swedes, 19 Dutch, 20 Romanians, 18 Georgians, 7 Hungarians, 2 Jordanians, 12 Turks, 9 Estonians, 1 Albanian, and 1 South Korean. God in heaven is the only one who knows how many Taliban and Afghan civilians have been killed. As I type the numbers grow. If we know anything it is that killing each other is often far too easy.

In the long and terrible history of American wars this one wins the prize for the longest. We've had more people killed in other wars, actually a lot more, but frankly that really doesn't matter to a young widow, or the parents of a kid who graduated from high school just two years before he got blown to bits by a road side bomb. Yes, explaining that stat to a four year old as he watches his father's casket being lowered into the ground probably won't be a great consolation, or even make much sense.

The presidential election is less than a week away, unless some states delay voting as they recover from the storm that ravaged the eastern seaboard earlier this week. I don't know who is going to win. I do know what I want from the guy who does, however. I want him to say, "That's it, everyone comes home now!"

The truth is we don't need every day of the year to be Dia de los Muertos. Just one is enough for me. It should be for all of us.


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