Conflicts of Memory

My middle name is Richard. I was named after my mother’s oldest brother – Richard Thomas Priddy –  who was killed on May 23rd, 1970 when the helicopter he was piloting crashed in Vietnam. I was born ten years later and grew up with the weight of his death. Though I’ve never been to war and do not have friends who died in Iraq or Afghanistan, I feel the weight of those lost deeply.

As the Iraq war was getting under way back in 2003, my mother cursed the war – with unusual vigor – that feckless politicians where sending men to die in another pointless war. She rarely spoke of her brother or his family, but their absence from my life has imprinted the costs of war onto me.

On every Memorial Day, with speeches given, friends remembered, and platitudes offered, I wrestle with the cost of our freedom. I wrestle with how we measure that cost. Vietnam has been a communist country for nearly 40 years and the United States’ freedom has not been threatened because of it. Al Qaeda and the Taliban were routed in months yet our men and women are still in Afghanistan. The Bush and Blair administrations were unequivocally wrong about the threat of nuclear weapons from an Iraq that actually posed no immediate threat to our freedom. Our families, friends, and nation have paid huge sums in these wars and have little net freedom to show for them. Arguably, we have less.

These costs were borne by our soldiers, sailors, and airmen. By their families and friends and communities and children who will grow up without parents. These are the costs to be remembered. Their loss is a loss to us all. But these losses must not be paraded about and abused in nihilistic rhetoric of political actors who beat the drums of war yet pay no costs. Our armed forces have entrusted their lives and their children’s futures to the wise decisions of civilian leaders and a voting public who must treat that trust with upmost care. If civilians are unwilling to pay that cost, we should not ask soldiers to pay it for us.

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