Memorial Day is unique in its contrasting yet complimentary dualities. It is a day of mourning for the dead and celebration for the living; a day of reflecting on the past and contemplating the future; a grim acknowledgement of the necessity of violence and a heartfelt plea for peace.
Those themes echoed throughout President Barack Obama’s speech today, which he gave at the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Marking the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War, the President took a moment to recognize the 36,000 Americans who were killed and the 8,000 who vanished forever into the fog of war, their lives given to defend the freedom of South Korea against Soviet totalitarianism.
But as we remember those we have lost, we must give equal attention to those who have risked it all and returned once again. Turning his attention to our veterans, the President spoke of the need to provide better healthcare for our veterans and to make it easier for them to transition back into civilian life.
“We have to be there not only when we need them, but when they need us. For us, the living, those of us who still have a voice, it is our responsibility, our obligation to fill that silence with our love, and gratitude, and not just with words, but with our actions. Truly remembering means that after our fallen heroes gave everything to get their battle buddies home, we have to make sure our veterans get everything that they have earned — from good healthcare to a good job. We have to do better.”
We must do better. It is very easy to kill a man; healing his mind and body from the horrors of war is a monumental task by comparison. It is a downright disgrace that the Republicans in our do-nothing Congress leap at the chance to spend hundreds of dollars to kill men – but draw the purse-strings tight when it comes to healing them.
The President was quick to remind us all that our nation is still at war, and that American soldiers are still on patrol in Afghanistan; but he failed to acknowledge our men on the ground in new battlefields – in Syria, in Libya, and Yemen. There was no mention of our brave men on the front lines with the Kurdish peshmergas in Syria, taking the battle to the Islamic State (Daesh/IS/ISIS); nor of those with the Iraqi army marching towards Daeshi-held Mosul.
Absent from the President’s speech too was any mention of a different approach to conflict or the futility of our overseas wars. The Taliban are re-surging in Afghanistan. The Islamic State is building strongholds in Libya and the Phillippines. The Iraqi army just yesterday launched an offensive to retake the city of Fallujah from Daesh- the third time that city must be retaken from a Sunni insurgency over the past ten years. We must acknowledge that business-as-usual isn’t producing any results – and we owe it to our fighting men and women to make sure their lives aren’t put on the line in vain.
Watch the highlights of the president’s speech here:
The full speech can be found here:
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.