Memorials


The imminent dedication of the World War II Memorial in the nation's capitol gives rise to the question of whether or not those in the so-called postmodern or post-postmodern civilian generation are made of the same stuff as that of their forbears, especially concerning death as it relates to armed conflict. There can be no doubt that the military personnel do measure up.

Television has been a deciding factor in causing/making a determination, but, as in the case of sports-casting and news-reporting in general, it has also been a significantly corrupting influence. This was true to a lesser extent than now in the Vietnam War era, but the constant nightly viewing of body bags and jungle warfare helped to form an always increasingly negative opinion in this country of the U.S. effort, notwithstanding the Cold War context in which the war was fought and largely misunderstood in the turbulent days of the hippies and the introduction of the "baby-boomer" era.

Of particular significance are/were the emotional approaches, or lack thereof, that connected the war efforts of the last century with each other and with that of the current Iraqi conflict. Since the beginning of hostilities about a year ago, there has been an average of two American military deaths per day, whether by combat, accident, disease or other. During the Vietnam War era (roughly 1964-72), the average was 20 dead per day. During the Korean Conflict (1950-53), the average number of military deaths was 34 per day. During the roughly four-and-a-half actual years of combat in the combined World War I and II eras (1917-18, 1942-45), the average number of deaths per day was a shocking 320. In those two wars alone, a number larger than that of the deaths on 9/11 died every ten days through a period of 1,643 days. The bloody per-day average of military deaths during the Civil War of 1861-65 was an unbelievable 340.

On the basis of these statistics, one could presume that monuments to those who fought, whether they survived or died, are erected in inverse order vis--vis the body count - or perhaps the emotional state of the populace. Though the carnage of Vietnam was not nearly as great as in the other wars, the Vietnam memorial was dedicated first, in 1982. Though the carnage of the Korean War was nowhere near as bloody as that of World Wars I and II, the monument to the Korean veterans was dedicated in 1995. The worst carnage by far was precipitated in World Wars I and II, but only now, 60 years after the fact, is a memorial dedicated to the veterans of WWII, and the only remembrance, besides the Tomb of the Unknowns, dedicated to the veterans of WWI is a small marker in the shape of a tombstone in section 34 of Arlington Cemetery. By contrast, there is a beautiful, large double-columned memorial to American war dead in the Chateau-Thierry WWI battlefield area of France.

Would it not be reasonable to assume that memorials would have been erected in an order conforming to the dates of the conflicts, or even accruing to the grim statistics? Yes. That this did not happen remarks the question beginning this article. Could it be that those of earlier generations were more inured to the harsh realities of life, or of death? Possibly. Would this mean that the current populace, or at least a sizeable segment of it, is "soft" and unable, at least as depicted by the whiners and/or the majority of "talking heads" or columnists in most of the mainline media, to accept that death is to be tolerated in behalf of a just cause, especially in the case of volunteers?

There will be no consensus with regard to this matter, but it is worth some thought, particularly at a time when there is no safe place anywhere in the world, and when terrorism must inevitably be answered by cold-blooded action. It is obvious now that the conflict to be feared may well be that of the West against Islam, not just the Middle East, but of an Islam that stretches across much of the world. While the West will not construe the conflict in other than military/protective measures, its antagonists will operate on what is called a "holy war" footing. It is axiomatic that the only danger worse than that posed by a fundamentalist fanatic is that which is posed by a religious fanatic.

If only individuals were a matter of concern, the problem would be bad enough; however, when whole nations harbor and sustain terrorists, the terrorists will have to be rooted out as the nations are overcome. This is not a time for the wimps or the squeamish; rather, it is a time for the strong mind, not emotional weakness, to rule. Perhaps the memorials were not conceived of in the proper order, but that doesn't matter as long as the just causes are upheld in proper order.

May 2004